Opal Aged Care Murdoch resident Liddy Bonsing at the final exercise session conducted at South Beach Fremantle in Western Australia

A tailored exercise program involving weekly one-on-one and group sessions has led to improvements in residents’ social and mental health, new Edith Cowan University research shows.

The research is part of a series of studies investigating the social benefits of a 12-week exercise physiologist-led program at three Perth aged care facilities.

Residents completed a 20-minute individual session and 50-minute group session each week doing aerobic activities such as marching on the spot, punching activities, stationary cycling, and strength-based work including lifting dumbbells.

A  study based on 24 residents at one of those facilities was published recently in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity .

Lead researcher Associate Professor Annette Raynor said the results show the program led to improvements in residents’ sense of independence, autonomy and social engagement.

“Our main outcome has been more about the social side of the response and not so much the physical, as much as the physical leads to the social advantages,” Associate Professor Raynor tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

Annette Raynor

“We’ve also found that people come out of their rooms more and some of the staff have recognised that certain people were more isolated and didn’t engage with the rest of the group.

“But through the activities, they were coming in and joining more activities with the rest of the facility,” Professor Raynor said.

The levels of agitation among participants have decreased and their moods improved in part because  of the opportunity to do something new, meaningful and engaging, she said.

“It’s because the program we run  challenges them.

“It’s one of the starting points to make sure they’re doing things that are individualised as much as possible so it gives them a sense of meaningfulness in their activity,” Professor Raynor said.

 “When the exercise physiologist comes in, it’s someone else to talk to and that itself creates a meaningful conversation,” she said.

“They look forward to this person coming and doing their exercise with them.”

The research also found residents improved mobility, flexibility and balance, she said.

Professor Raynor said being tailored to individuals is the program’s biggest success factor.

“One of the gentlemen was very impressed that his muscles were getting bigger, and that’s because he was able to lift some very decent weights versus in a group activity session, where he might be sitting there certainly working under his own level of intensity,” she said.

Professor Raynor said both residents and staff benefit from the exercise program.

“It could be as simple as getting yourself out of a chair more easily, which means you don’t always have to wait for two people to come and do your transfer. You can maybe rely on one of the staff,” she said.

“That is a win for everyone because it is less work for the staff and less frustrating for residents who have to wait around or the families who have to wait for people to come,” Professor Raynor said.

“They won’t be able to go out and win the running race, but they are going to  maintain enough physical ability to be able to do what they need to do.”

Access the research study It’s not just physical: Exercise physiologist-led exercise program promotes functional and psychosocial health outcomes in aged care here.

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