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Exercise for Seniors in Nursing Homes Can Boost Mental Well-Being, Social Engagement

Tailored exercise programs led by accredited exercise physiologists don’t just provide physical benefits for residents living in nursing homes — they improve mental wellbeing and social engagement, according to a new study.

In a series of studies, Dr. Annette Raynor, an associate professor from the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University in Australia, investigated the benefits of a 12-week exercise program delivered by an accredited exercise physiologist for older adults living in three different residential aged care facilities in Perth, Australia.

According to health authorities, more than 50 percent of the 230,000 Australian residents living in aged care experience symptoms of depression.

The new studies provide preliminary evidence for the feasibility and effectiveness of an accredited exercise physiologist-led therapy program to promote residents’ physical and psychosocial wellbeing, according to Raynor.

She notes that previous research on exercise in aged care had tended to focus on the physical effects of resistance training and balance programs on fall prevention and in promoting functional capacity and mobility.

“This focus on the physical outcomes from exercise often decreases the significance of psychosocial benefits, such as enhanced independence, elevated mood, and reduced agitation that can also be achieved with exercise,” Raynor said.

She points to key findings from her research: 

  • The program led to improvements in residents’ sense of independence, autonomy, and social engagement. 
  • Residents demonstrated improvements in balance, strength, flexibility, and mobility. 
  • The individualized structure of the program enabled residents to foster personal connections and accommodated specific needs relating to cognitive and physical impairments.

While the exercise programs achieved physical improvements in balance, strength, and flexibility, other significant benefits, such as increased connectedness and motivation, were also observed, according to Raynor.

She added that staff in the nursing homes had noticed that residents were coming out of their rooms more often, joining in activities, their mood was enhanced, and they were generally more happy.

“One lady we worked with had experienced a stroke,” Raynor said. “She couldn’t dress herself or go to the toilet unassisted. Prior to her stroke she had been very independent and found her current situation frustrating. Through the exercise program she regained some independence, was able to join classes, choose her own clothes, and go to the bathroom on her own.”

“These are the changes we were looking for — an increase in strength and functional ability are great, but the extra benefits that this enhanced physical ability brings to the residents’ quality of life demonstrated the meaningfulness of the program,” she continued.

Raynor said most exercise interventions in aged care are typically not delivered by exercise physiologists, who are specifically trained to deliver tailored exercise programs.

“Because this exercise program was led by an exercise physiologist, they could prescribe and deliver one-on-one or group sessions tailored specifically to each individual,” she said. “This also meant they could build personal relationships and adapt the exercise to the residents’ needs.” 

The study, “It’s not just physical: Exercise physiologist-led exercise program promotes functional and psychosocial health outcomes in aged care,” was published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.

Source: Edith Cowan University

Exercise for Seniors in Nursing Homes Can Boost Mental Well-Being, Social Engagement

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Exercise for Seniors in Nursing Homes Can Boost Mental Well-Being, Social Engagement. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/05/28/exercise-for-seniors-in-nursing-homes-can-boost-mental-well-being-social-engagement/156386.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 28 May 2020 (Originally: 28 May 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 28 May 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.