Implementation of group based exercises by peer instructors : a feasibility study in the elderly population
Background and purpose of the study By the year 2035, the number of persons ≥ 75 years of age will have doubled in Finland. There is convincing evidence for the importance of regular, moderate intensity physical activity for public health gain. Exercise programs need to be developed that can reach the elderly effectively, make optimal use of available resources and are cost effective, thus augmenting state services. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the process and feasibility of a program where peer instructors were educated to implement group based exercises in local pensioner’s societies in Finland. Research methods and data 48 peer instructors (>75 years of age) from 20 societies were trained to establish and lead exercise groups of eligible participants from among their society members. They administered tests of functional ability, obtained information on current physical activity through questionnaires and maintained a diary of exercise session contents. Feedback was collected from both participants and peer instructors. Data analysis included evaluation of recruitment, implementation, achievements as perceived by participants and feasibility of conducting group-based exercise sessions using peer instructors. Program feasibility included the components of reach, safety, drop-outs, participant satisfaction and expenditure. Data was recorded and analyzed using SPSS for Windows 16.0 and Microsoft Office software. Results Peer instructors recruited a total of 268 participants from a population base of 1318 eligible society members. The mean age of participants was 77.7 (SD 4.8) years. Exercise sessions were held 1-2 times a week with average participation of 10.9 persons per session. 48.5% of the total exercise time was spent on strengthening and/or balance training. 79.3% of the recruited participants were aged ≥ 75 years. 45.5% of the participants experienced difficulty or were not able to walk a distance of two kilometres and 27.4% experienced difficulty or could not climb a flight of stairs even with assistance. Approximately € 180 was spent per person per year. 73.7% of the participants attended the exercise sessions regularly (80% sessions), while 12.2% dropped out. Program safety and participant satisfaction were high. Conclusions Group exercise sessions can be successfully implemented by peer instructors in the elderly population; thus facilitating healthy and independent living amongst the elderly. The program is a feasible method for the promotion of physical activity among the elderly. ...
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