By 2030, it is estimated that the number of adults over the age of 65 will reach 1 billion (Jones & Rose, 2005). The effect of the natural aging process on the physical body results in a decrease of functional ability. However, physical activity can help delay the onset or minimize several of the negative physical effects of aging, including keeping the body fit enough to perform normal activities of daily life. Therefore, to optimize the quality of life in the later years, it is critical for senior adults to enhance functionality through physical activity and exercise.
For the second year in a row residents of College Square Retirement Village have been able to participate in the Senior Fit Club. This Club serves as an applied learning portion of the course “Fitness for Senior Populations” offered by the Kinesiology and Physical Education Department at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. This eight week program allowed 27 UCA students to work one-on-one with a senior adult to develop and implement an individualized exercise program. Students spent an hour each week with their senior partner working on various aspects of physical fitness, including cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and functionality training.
At the beginning of the semester College Square residents, who volunteered to participate in the Senior Fit Club program, had to provide a medical history, liability waiver, informed consent, activity readiness questionnaire, release of information, photo release and physician’s clearance. Initial participation consisted of 21 seniors, six of whom had participated the previous year, and they ranged in age from 68-91 years old. Medical conditions of the participants included arthritis, spinal stenosis, Parkinson’s disease, chronic heart failure, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, coronary artery bypass graft, atrial fibrillation (controlled with pacemaker), narcolepsy/cataplexy, seizures and diabetes. Students researched and were taught specific adaptations and accommodations needed for these various medical conditions.
The exercise programs developed by the students were based on the individual’s medical history, goals and Senior Fitness Test (SFT) results. Class began with the administration of the SFT to assess functional mobility and movement consistent with activities of daily living (e.g. sitting, reaching, and walking).1 During the following weeks, seniors performed exercises based on the fitness goals they had set for themselves and the students working with them. Participants took a post SFT to assess improvement. All of them demonstrated some level of improvement on one or more of the components of the SFT. With a limited number of training sessions, it is unclear if the increased scores were due to actual physical changes or improved self-confidence related to the exercises. However, whether the changes were psychological or physical, many of the participants stated they were going to continue with their exercises after the program ended due to the benefits they perceived.
Overall feedback from the students and senior participants was very positive. They enjoyed each other’s company and made new friendships across generations. Several senior participants requested that the Senior Fit Club be offered on a more regular basis. Increasing the availability of the program would not only benefit the senior participants, but would also provide UCA students with increased outreach opportunities within the senior population. Senior Fit Club will continue to be an excellent link for learning and community involvement for the future service-providers being educated at the University of Central Arkansas.
— Mary Martha Douglas, PhD and Donna Hoffmeyer, MSS, BSN, ACSM-HFS
1. Jones, C.J & Rose, D.J. (Ed) (2005). Physical Activity Instruction of Older Adults. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.