Seniors' exercise classKinesiology professor Sean Horton has been awarded $198,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to conduct a study on fitness programming for seniors.

Study seeking ways to keep seniors active

Finding ways to keep older adults physically active is the goal of a new research project out of the University of Windsor.

Sean HortonKinesiology professor Sean Horton is leading a team that will survey adults 65 and older during and after they take part in a 10-week fitness program specifically designed for their age demographic. Participants will be asked about their preferences when it comes to fitness programs and about any barriers they’ve faced during the pandemic.

“Motivating older adults to be physically active is a challenge that Canadian community organizations and service providers face daily,” said Dr. Horton. “The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded this challenge.”

Studies show that the older we get, the less we exercise, Horton said. But exercise is important to overall health and independence.

“We need to understand what makes participation in exercise programs meaningful for older adults so that providers can better address the needs of this population,” Horton said.

The study will include residents of Chartwell Retirement Residences, Amica Senior Lifestyles, and Sharon Village Care Homes and clients of Life After 50, the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre’s Chronic Disease Management Program, and the Oshawa Senior Community Centres.

Horton, who is working with UWindsor professors Thecla Damianakis and Patti Weir, and researchers from York University and Ontario Tech University, has partnered with UWindsor alumna Emily Johnson (BHK 2014), founder of StrongerU Senior Fitness.

While other partners will continue to deliver their existing fitness programs, staff from Chartwell, Amica, Sharon Village, and Life After 50 will receive training in one of Johnson’s StrongerU fitness programs. Staff at the seniors’ homes and community group will become certified to teach the program and get access to all the course materials for free.

The StrongerU regimen will consist of two sessions a week for 10 weeks. The program is set to music and focuses on building strength, with each session including a cardio warmup, exercises for all the major muscle groups, and a cool down with stretches.

“There’s the social aspect,” said Johnson. “We train the instructors to be more like party hosts.”

Participants don’t have to take part in the study to take advantage of the sessions, but Johnson predicts the study will be an incentive for some.

“There are a lot of intellectual older adults who will participate just to take part in the study.”

Johnson, who worked as a recreation manager for seniors’ homes before starting her own company, said she looks forward to getting the kind of standardized feedback the study will provide.

In all, the researchers hope to survey 100 seniors, approximately 25 per cent of the participants.

If participants stop taking part in the sessions, the researchers will want to know why.

The findings will help better tailor exercise programs for older adults, revealing the strengths and limits of various delivery methods. Some of the sessions may take place virtually and some in-person.

The $220,000 study is being funded with a $198,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, with the rest of the money coming from internal university grants. The study will take three years and will provide research opportunities for graduate students.

—Sarah Sacheli

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