Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are Evaluating an Exercise Program for Seniors

08/26/03    Portland, Ore.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are evaluating an exercise program for seniors to determine whether it allows them to remain active and independent. The program, called ABLE Bodies, is aimed at maintaining and improving balance in seniors, therefore allowing them to perform necessary daily tasks. Portland fitness specialist and personal trainer Sue Scott designed the program. The Think First Oregon injury prevention program at OHSU is conducting the research project to determine the program's effectiveness.

"The concept behind ABLE Bodies is that by doing these low-impact exercises, seniors may be able to more easily do the things they want to do," explained Scott. "This includes hobbies and other social activities. If successful, we hope this program will lead to a sustained or improved quality of life for participants."

The 16-week program includes a number of balance-improving activities, including posture and flexibility exercises, strength training, aerobic activity and tasks such as reaching and bending -- activities that younger persons do easily, but become more difficult in old age. Classes take place once a week and participants are given exercises to do outside of class. Progress is measured throughout the course by conducting interviews and gauging each participant's physical ability changes. Residents at senior living facilities throughout the Portland area are taking part in the study project.

One participant at Portland's Terwilliger Plaza is 92-year-old Hannah May. May, who has witnessed two world wars in her lifetime, has led a very active life, including climbs to the top of Oregon's Middle Sister and Mt. Hood. Recently, however, arthritis and a back injury have significantly reduced her mobility and independence.

"You have to keep flexible and agile at my age," said May. "I'm hoping that this program will allow me to become more active and increase my balance. If an old person falls, that's serious."

Think First director Rae Rosenberg hopes programs like this have a significant impact on May and other study participants.

"Our program specializes in trying to prevent injuries in the state's most susceptible populations, seniors and teenagers," said Rosenberg.

In addition to conducting the study, Think First has recruited interns to assist in teaching the weekly classes. This aspect allows participants to socialize with a different age group as well as other seniors. Past research has shown that social activity is another important quality of life factor and is connected to reduced risk of severe injury.

Think First is a national, nonprofit organization founded by neurosurgeons across the country. The mission of Think First is to educate young people about the prevention of brain and spinal cord injuries. Oregon's chapter is under the supervision of neurosurgeon Edward Neuwelt, M.D., professor of neurology and neurological surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine.

The ABLE (Adventures in Better Living through Exercise) Bodies research project is funded by the National Blueprint for Aging through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.