Group exercise programmes for older adults led to more independent exercise despite Covid-19 pandemic restrictions

New findings from the University of Missouri and Oklahoma State University show that the Stay Strong, Stay Healthy eight-week resistance training programme helps older adults maintain long-term exercise habits and increase their self-confidence

A new study by the University of Missouri and Oklahoma State University found that even when gyms were closed and there were other Covid-19 restrictions limiting face-to-face meetings, older adults who completed the Stay Strong, Stay Healthy exercise programme – created at MU in 2005 – continued to maintain long-term exercise habits independently, which resulted in improved lifestyle changes and an increase in both physical energy and self-confidence.

Kristin Miller, an assistant extension professor at the MU School of Health Professions, said: “We sent the surveys three months, six months, nine months and 12 months after their first Stay Strong, Stay Healthy class.

“We were hoping that they would continue to exercise regularly after the class, but we did not know to what degree or magnitude, so we were happy to learn most participants independently sustained the exercise habits they developed during the group programme.”

See also: Researchers shed light on how exercise preserves physical fitness during ageing


Instructor-led training exercises


Miller collaborated with Bree Baker, an assistant professor at OSU, to review the 12-month follow-up surveys from adults aged over 50 who had taken the eight-week training course.

Baker added the participants not only reported long-term physical health benefits, including better sleep and higher energy levels, but they also reported more self-confidence in their ability to complete basic daily tasks, which sometimes become more difficult for older adults as they age.

Previous studies have shown that the Stay Strong, Stay Healthy programme, which includes instructor-led strength training exercises like squats, bicep curls and lunges, improves muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and sleep as well as decreases the risk of falls for older adults.

Baker said: “I think sometimes people may be unsure of themselves so they may lack the confidence that they can do certain things.

“It was great to see that they discovered if they can lift weights or complete various exercises, they can clearly go do other things that they are interested in.

“So, I think Stay Strong, Stay Healthy helped them build their confidence and it opened their eyes to all the other things that they can do in their life.”

Miller has seen the programme’s effect on older adults first-hand after her own parents volunteered to participate.

She said: “My parents were in the randomised control trial, and they still continue to do all those healthy habits they learned during the class to this day.

“I’ve been their daughter this entire time telling them to do all these things, but it took them taking the class to actually jump-start their increased activity levels and make it last.”

After 18 years, the programme has reached more than 20,000 older adults and expanded to some of Missouri’s neighbouring states, including Oklahoma. The findings of this study can help the programme continue to grow and potentially be implemented nationwide.

Baker added: “If you only have anecdotal examples of the health benefits, that is one thing, but now with the scientific proof of the various health benefits, national governing bodies and funding organisations are more likely to provide funding to this programme that has evidence that it works.”

The study, ‘Older adults who resistance train improve physical function and adopt long-term exercise habits despite COVID-19 restrictions’, is published in Journal of Sports Sciences.

Image: Exercise class. © Pate McCuien/ University of Missouri.