Professor’s study yields some surprising results

American culture expects older individuals to be immobile. Many of these older individuals agree with that, so they stay put. However, a study by a USF professor could change that opinion.

The study, conducted by assistant professor of gerontology Ross Andel and published in the Journal of Aging and Health, drew both obvious and surprising conclusions in the benefits of exercising for older individuals.

Andel and Robert Simons of the Bonsai Spa and Wellness Clinic in Largo conducted a 16-week study in which they tested the effects of exercising on older individuals. Simons set up and recorded the study while Andel analyzed the information and prepared the report. Altogether, they had 64 volunteers with an average age of 83.

“We were particularly interested in the benefits of resistance training and walking on functional fitness in old age, with functional fitness being the ability to perform activities of daily living,” Andel said.

The volunteers were split into three groups. One group participated in a resistance workout, and another concentrated on walking. The third group did not participate in any exercise.

The resistance group performed several repetitions on exercise machines with no weight added. The average amount of time spent exercising was between 15 and 20 minutes. The walking group had two 880-yard walking sessions a week, though the participants were allowed to increase the distance.

Researchers tested the muscle strength of the participants in a number of different activities such as leg curls, leg extensions and upper back and chest presses. They also measured flexibility by having the participants reach their toes. Hand-eye coordination was also tested through the soda-pop test, in which participants were timed as they grasped, turned upside down and replaced three unopened soda cans five inches apart.

The researchers recorded agility and balance scores through a variety of tests and tested cardiovascular health by monitoring heart rate and blood pressure.

Andel and Simons concluded at the end of the study that the walking and resistance groups enjoyed better health than the inactive control group. The study also found reduced blood pressure in the exercise groups.

However, the two researchers were surprised by other results.

The first surprise was that both active groups showed improvement in areas of the body that weren’t trained. For example, members in the walking group gained upper-body strength.

“One of the reasons that this might be happening is that they are so disengaged from physical activity that doing anything then brings benefits,” Andel said.

Andel and Simons expected the resistance group to do better then the walking group but were surprised to learn the participants did just as well.

“We found that there were very little differences between the walking and resistance groups in terms of improvement with the different indicators of functionally fitness,” Andel said.

Andel said he wants to see an increase in the number of older adults engaging in exercise routines.

“They might tell you that they have arthritis in (their) hand,” Andel said. “It really doesn’t matter because (they) could go out and walk. Another person might say, ‘I can’t really walk because I have knee pain.’ OK, well, go do some resistance training. The benefits of exercising are universal in older age.”