Active seniors experience less distress

May 15, 2012

Active seniors have less stress.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examined the relationship between physical activity and physical function in seniors. The discovered older adults who experienced any level of psychological distress were more than four times more likely to experience functional limitations than those who did not.

Gregory Kolt, PhD from the University of Western Sydney School of Science and Health, led the team of researchers in analyzing data from 100,000 Australian seniors. The researchers collected information regarding self-reported physical activity engagement, physical function, psychological distress, age, smoking history, education, height and weight.

Once the data was gathered, the psychological distress scores for each participant were determined by the researchers, who found 8.4 percent of all older adult participants were experiencing some level of psychological distress. Older adults who experienced a moderate level of psychological distress were most likely to experience a function limitation, nearly seven times more likely than older adults who reported no psychological distress. Older adults who were more physically active were less likely to experience functional limitations.

In previous studies, researchers linked psychological distress to reduced physical activity and increased functional limitation in seniors and other age groups as well. A separate study found approximately 30 percent of reductions in physical activity and increases in psychological distress over time can be the result of functional limitations and chronic health problems.

"Our findings can influence the emphasis that we place on older adults to remain active," Kolt said. "With greater levels of physical activity, more positive health gains can be achieved, and with greater physical function (through physical activity), greater independence can be achieved."

Senior citizens across the country are taking proactive steps to ward off functioning limitations and cognitive decline through alternative fitness activities. Through the programs, seniors are increasing their social interaction and improving their quality of life while staying physically fit.

To help keep seniors active, healthy and mentally sharp, Microsoft partnered with the city of Los Angeles Department of Aging, Partners in Care Foundation and the St. Barnabas Senior Services to launch an innovative program called the Exergamers Wellness Club. The program has plans to expand into 16 senior centers in the Los Angeles area.

The program combines technology with exercise, overall health monitoring and health education from Partners in Care. Participants will be able to use Kinect for Xbox 360 to make exercise more enjoyable, while supplementing their physical activity levels with alternative options such as Tai Chi. Microsoft HealthVault will manage and store seniors' personal health information, and participants will report their improved fitness and well-being scores to the program's personnel for tracking.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city is very excited to work with the organizations and Microsoft to develop healthy activities for senior citizens. In fact, a group of seniors recently burst into dance during a flash mob at the announcement of the partnership's plans, to illustrate the benefits of senior physical fitness.

"The Exergamers Wellness Club allows seniors to improve their physical, mental and social well-being by participating in friendly competition, interactive gaming and tracking their health information online. It is just one way we can give back to the people who have given our city so much," Villaraigosa said.

Seniors are already competing in virtual bowling tournaments with peers all over the country, and dancing to a variety of musical styles using Kinect technology. Many of the senior centers may offer programs for free, but other community centers, assisted living facilities or recreational programs may require seniors to pay for their physical fitness activities.

The Microsoft HealthVault feature of the program will allow senior participants to monitor the benefits of their exercise and increased activity levels, as well as track their personal health information as they progress including blood pressure and blood-glucose levels. Seniors can share their online personal health information with family members, loved ones and caregivers so the data can be applied to other health and fitness programs they may partake in. The HealthVault also offers security features to safeguard all personal information of senior participants from external threats.

Because the initial launch of the Exergamers Wellness Club was so successful, Microsoft is planning to expand the program into 15 more senior centers in the Los Angeles area and donate Kinect technology, a selection of games and a one-year Xbox Live Gold Membership to each of the new 15 senior center locations. Microsoft is also teaming up with Get Real Consulting to develop a geriatric personal health application. Seniors can leverage the application to proactively manage their health information online, and take a more independent role in their own healthcare and wellness plan.

The Exergamers Wellness Club was first launched in May 2011 with just 22 members. Since then it has expanded to serving 34 seniors, and it was recently announced the program will be implemented at 15 more facilities further increasing the number of participants.

The program is founded on promoting healthy lifestyle choices for aging adults, and was developed by the Partners in Care Foundation. June Simmons, president and CEO of Partners in Care, said adding new, interactive technology to the program was a critical enhancement to health screenings and health education programs at the organization. Simmons hopes the program's success will inspire similar engaging, tech-savvy initiatives to be launched all over the country to keep seniors healthy, as well as incite more quantitative research into the many ways technology can improve healthcare and wellness plans.

"This program helps seniors better understand their health and see progress over time," Simmons said. "Kinect makes exercise fun and engaging - and that's what keeps them coming back."


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