Study: iPad exercise program helps seniors in Siberia get active

By Laura Lovett

Finding ways to excersise in Siberia where weather is notoriously extreme can be difficult. But a recent study published by JMIR set out to see if an iPad-based exercise regime could help seniors living in Siberia. 

Researchers found that trainees showed a high level of technology acceptance and had a high score of intention to use the technology in the future. The study also showed that overall adherence to the training was 74 percent.  

“Online group exercising was proven feasible among healthy independently living older adults in Russia,” authors of the study wrote. “The pilots suggest that a physical training performed in a virtual environment positively affect the life satisfaction of the trainees, but it does not provide support for a decrease in loneliness.”

Researchers set out to find out if the technology was usable and accepted by older adults, and if the online group exercising and baseline measurements influence the adherence of older adults in a training program. The researchers also looked at the impact of group exercise on older adults. Authors noted that the population in Siberia where weather fluctuates, can impact seniors' activity levels and can lead to isolation. 

“However, despite the body of literature on the topic, little attention has been paid on populations living under difficult environmental conditions and undergoing complex social changes, such as the Siberian community,” authors of the study wrote. “Seasonal fluctuation has been found to determine the level of physical and social activities of older adults leading to less opportunities to go out and interact, especially in high latitudes where winter can result in a decline of physical functions of older adults, such as ankle strength.”

The study included two eight-week pilots that used a tablet-based virtual gym app, called Gymcentral. There were 44 participants who completed the study between the two pilots. Participants were assigned to an interaction condition representing the online group exercising or an individual condition, presenting a home-based individual training.

Participants in the group class could see the instructor and the other participants as avatars. All of the classes featured skills like balance and strength training.

Both condition groups reported a high rate of usability. In fact, overall on a five point scale, when participants were asked how likely they were to continue to use the technology in the future the average score was a 4.2. 

During the pilot coaches were able to give feedback to users and help tailor the program to individuals. Trainees could share public messages with all other participants or use a private messaging system. 

Participants had to be 59-years old or older, living independently, self-sufficient and at a nonfrail, transitionally frail, or mildly frail. Every participant got a tablet with the software already downloaded. 

In the first pilot participants had a high group cohesion and were recruited from two organizations, with most performing shared activities, like computer courses and hobby classes, according to the study. In the second pilot participants had low group cohesion and were recruited from various different organizations. 

The study also found that higher levels of social support at baseline were associated with better adherence for the low-cohesion condition. However, this association was not found in groups with high group cohesion. Researchers also found that participants in the high-cohesion group preferred the group exercising to the independent section. 

However, participants did not observe any decrease in loneliness score as a result of the training. 

“The results point to the feasibility and effectiveness of technology-supported physical interventions, and in particular, of online group exercising among Siberian older adults,” authors wrote. “High cohesion groups are preferable for group exercising, especially to mitigate effects of low social support on adherence.”