The study led by Dr. Catherine Sarkisian, assistant professor of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, showed that older adults who participated in a pilot test for a program aimed at changing the mindset became more physically active, increasing their walking levels by about 24 percent, an average increase of 2.5 miles per week.
"We can teach older adults to get rid of those old beliefs that becoming sedentary is just a normal part of growing older," Sarkisian said."We can teach them that they can and should remain physically active at all ages," she added.
For the study, researchers recruited 46 sedentary adults age 65 and older from three senior centres. They used a technique known as "attribution retraining" to effect a change among study participants about what it means to age and what to expect out of it.
"The exciting part is that, to our knowledge, this attribution retraining component hasn't been tested in a physical activity intervention. It's been very successful in educational interventions," Sarkisian said.
The older adults attended four weekly, hour-long group sessions led by a trained health educator who applied an attribution-retraining curriculum. They were taught to reject the notion that becoming older meant becoming sedentary and to accept that they could continue engaging in physical activity well into old age.
A one-hour exercise class that included strength, endurance and flexibility training followed each attribution retraining session. Participants were fitted with electronic pedometers, to be worn at all times, which measured the number of steps they took each week.
They also completed surveys that gauged their expectations about aging. Higher scores indicated that participants expected high functioning with aging, while lower scores meant they expected physical and mental decline.
Due to the program, participants increased the number of steps they took per week from a mean of 24,749 to 30,707, a 24 percent increase, and their scores on the age-expectation survey rose by 30 percent.
In addition, their mental health-related quality of life improved, and they reported fewer difficulties with daily activities, experienced less pain, had higher energy levels and slept better.
"An intervention combining attribution retraining with a weekly exercise class raised walking levels and improved quality of life in sedentary older adults in this small pre-post community-based pilot study," the researchers stated."Attribution retraining deserves further investigation as a potential means of increasing physical activity in sedentary older adults," they added.
The study is issued online in the Web site of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.