I recently attended the Research to Action conference hosted by the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at Western University in London, Ontario. Part of the CCAA’s mandate is to apply evidence-based principles of exercise research to group fitness classes for older adults. The conference was well attended, and as usual, there were plenty of opportunities to learn new “tricks of the trade” to enhance my own classes and to network with colleagues from around Canada.
One of the highlights of the conference each year is a synopsis of research findings in the area of physical activity and aging. Western University’s Dr. Liza Stathokostas presented a review of the top five research articles within the last year. The five she cited were:
1. Does stretching provide any significant health benefits?
After exhaustive scholarly reviews of the literature, Dr. Stathokostas concluded that there is no strong relationship between stretching and functional abilities which would allow us to provide recommendations on how long and how often to stretch. It is strongly advisable not to perform static (or held) stretching before a work-out but rather to do dynamic (or moving) stretching exercises help warm up the joints and prepare them for exercise. The scope of the scholarly review, however, was for guidelines in the general population and not therapeutic or rehab applications where certain types of stretching are known to be crucial in the healing process.
Reference: Stathokostas, L., et al., “Flexibility Training and Functional Ability in Older Adults: A Systematic Review,” Journal of Aging Research, vol. 2012, Article ID 306818, 30 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/306818
2. Are people more prone to exercise-related injuries as they age?
Based on a paper accepted but not yet published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, older people in general were not necessarily more prone to injuries than younger people. Across all ages, males were more prone to injury from weight training and more often in weight training machines (vs. free weights). Four activities in particular had higher rates of injury in older people: golf, bowling, skiing, and cycling.
Reference: American Journal of Sports Medicine, accepted for publication May 2013.
3. What are the best exercise strategies for falls prevention in older adults?
When comparing various types of interventions to prevent falls, such as Tai Chi, in-home assessments, education, gait and balance training, strength training classes, and multiple component classes or home-based programs, Tai Chi was found to be the most effective in reducing the risk of falling, whereas multiple component classes and home-based programs were the most effective in reducing the rate of falls.
Reference: Gillespie, L. et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD007146. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007146.pub3.
4. Can physical activity prevent or improve outcomes for Alzheimer’s Disease sufferers?
Across multiple studies, there was strong evidence for improvement when there was increased physical activity (equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week). In fact the evidence supported aerobic activity over resistance training, although both were found to be effective.
5. Is Prolonged Sitting bad for you?
This area of research has garnered much attention over the years and now there is strong evidence to support limiting the time spent sitting. Stathokostas and Dogra’s research showed that middle aged and older adults who were the least sedentary (< 2 hours/day) were 43% more likely to age successfully compared to those who were sedentary for 4 or more hours per day.
Reference: Shilpa Dogra and Liza Stathokostas, “Sedentary Behavior and Physical Activity Are Independent Predictors of Successful Aging in Middle-Aged and Older Adults,” Journal of Aging Research, vol. 2012, Article ID 190654, 8 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/190654
All and all, the various workshops and presentations provided a wealth of information to fitness professionals like me. I am looking forward to next year’s Research to Action conference!
Another Canadian University that regularly contributes to research in the field of physical activity and aging is the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. A study, published in May in the on-line journal PLoS ONE looked at 86 women aged 70 to 80 who had some form of mild cognitive impairment. For six months, researchers studied the participants, who were grouped into various types of exercise regimens from weight training classes, outdoor walking classes, and balance and tone classes. The purpose of the study was to see if the participants would make fewer trips to the doctor and require fewer diagnostic and other health-related services. Specifically, the researchers were interested in which types of exercise classes were most effective in lowering health-care usage.
At the end of the 6-month study, the researchers concluded that those in the resistance training and aerobic training groups had significantly improved cognitive function and incurred lower health-care usage costs than those who participated in balance and toning classes.
Reference: Davis J.C., et al. (2013) An Economic Evaluation of Resistance Training and Aerobic Training versus Balance and Toning Exercises in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63031. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063031