Brock virtual panel to offer exercise advice for seniors during pandemic

Physical activity is an important part of staying healthy, especially as we age. To help older adults find ways to safely exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brock University is hosting a free public talk focused on the benefits of being active.

Brock’s Lifespan Development Research Institute and the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences have partnered to host Exercise and Older Adults — Staying Healthy as We Age, on Thursday, Feb. 25 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. via Lifesize.

Department of Kinesiology Professor Kimberley Gammage and a panel of student researchers will use their work to explain practical issues of offering online exercise geared to older adults and evidence-based recommendations for meeting physical activity guidelines.

Department of Kinesiology Professor Kimberley Gammage.

“We’ve had to get a bit more creative during these pandemic lockdowns to keep older adults active,” says Gammage. “It’s more important than ever to be active for the physical, psychological and social benefits. This panel will provide practical advice alongside research findings that have been ongoing since July 2020.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last March, the team at the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being, where Gammage is Director of the SeniorFit Program, needed to figure out quickly how to offer programming online in a way that provides members with the best experience possible.

In trying to determine the way forward, Applied Health Sciences graduate students were enlisted to conduct research into what, if any, online exercise programs were geared to older adults, whether there were barriers to accessing programs, and what Centre members’ perceptions were of online exercise offerings.

Panelists Matthieu Dagenais (BSc ’16), a PhD student in Behavioural and Population Health, and Olivia Parker (BKin ’20), a Master of Science student in Kinesiology, will present their respective findings of these research projects.

“Both Matthieu and Olivia have worked in the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being and have long histories of being involved with exercise programming for older adults and teaching fitness classes,” says Gammage. “When we were trying to figure out the dos and don’ts we may encounter while pivoting online, we were basically starting from ground zero with little information. Their research has helped us to focus our scope and we’ll be able to make specific recommendations for practitioners in the future.”

Research findings suggest at the onset of the pandemic there were only nine studies of online exercise programs geared towards older adults.

“The scoping review Olivia conducted demonstrates there is not a lot out there online and not necessarily geared to older adults,” says Gammage. “The assumption is that this age group is either not interested, able, willing or does not have technical capacity to participate.”

While many older adults have reported transportation barriers and feelings of discomfort exercising in environments with others or participating in in-person social programming, online programming can offer a convenient alternative.

“Older adults may need more convincing, access to and training with technology, but virtual workouts are a legitimate way to stay active,” says Gammage. “It’s not the same socially as in person, but is certainly better than not having any option at all.”

The preliminary research findings from Dagenais’s study, which included interviews with Centre members who participated and those who did not about their perceptions of accessing online programming, is helping to identify what is working and how to make improvements.

“At the start, there was a lot of focus on the technology piece, but we’ve also learned individuals need to have the capacity to deliver this type of programming,” says Gammage. “I’ve taught fitness for 30 years and teaching it online is very different. We need to have people who can teach in these new formats while ensuring the safety of the older adult participants doing the exercises.”

Transitioning to and expanding online exercise programming provides a whole new opportunity for older adults and those with barriers to getting active to become involved in an environment they are comfortable in. It also provides gyms with new ways to engage with prospective members.

To learn more about the importance and benefits of exercise for older adults, research on exercise in older adults — especially at home and during COVID — and tips to safely exercise while aging, please register for the online event.

The webinar is free and open to the public, but early registration is required to gain access. RSVP online and instructions for joining the event will provided.

For more information, please contact Lifespan Knowledge Mobilization Officer Jayne Morrish at jmorrish@brocku.ca


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