Seniors seated during exercise program

Residents of assisted living communities may not be physically active enough to maintain and improve their health, a pilot study across eight communities has found.

Investigators from the University of Michigan School of Nursing followed 54 residents to see how certain health and social factors affected their daily physical activity. Most study participants were quite sedentary and had low levels of activity, they reported. Sitting times were often greater than 30 minutes or an hour.

“What I was fascinated by is that 72% of time-accumulated stepping was in less than two-minute bouts,” said Janet L. Larson, Ph.D., RN, in a statement. “That was startling. They’re not walking for any length of time.”

To the fridge, and back

Larson and colleagues expressed concern that these residents will not be able to maintain their physical endurance, and that they are heading for functional decline.

“Basically, they’re going from the recliner to the bathroom and back, or going to the recliner to the refrigerator and back, so that was a huge red flag,” she said.

Certain factors were particularly linked to low activity. Residents who reported fatigue, used an assistive walking device and who made more social comparisons were significantly more sedentary. 

In some ways, the findings are not surprising, the researchers said. Assisted living residents may have lost opportunities to be active now that they no longer need to perform necessary daily chores such as doing laundry, cooking or getting the mail, for example. 

Residents value their health

Notably, the study participants said that they valued physical activity and its benefits, despite their actions. 

“In this study, staying active was important and all of the participants expressed that moving was essential to maintaining health and function,” Carol M. Vos, Ph.D., RN, said.

The results may be helpful to caregivers, who may wish to find opportunities to interrupt long periods of sitting with standing or walking, the authors concluded.

Full findings were published in the journal Research in Gerontological Nursing.

For more analysis on the study, visit McKnight’s Senior Living.

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