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Group Exercise May Help Older Adults Combat Loneliness

Even virtual classes may have positive social side effects.

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Man performing exercise for seniors

The work that group exercise instructors and health coaches perform not only boosts physical health but, for older adults, may also support mental well-being by reducing feelings of aloneness. Older adults who participated in group exercise felt less loneliness and social isolation, according to a study completed before the pandemic and published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2020; doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2020.10.006).

“These classes had already been shown to reduce the risk of falls in seniors, and this was the first demonstration that they also reduce social isolation, to the best of our knowledge,” said principal study author Allison Moser Mays, MD, a geriatrician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Los Angeles. In addition to attending classes, subjects met with a health coach. Researchers believe that guidance from a health coach is key to ensuring people stay on track.

Participants ages 52–104 worked with a health coach to choose one of four classes: Arthritis Exercise, EnhanceFitness, Tai Chi for Arthritis or Chronic Disease Self-Management. Individuals had to attend at least one session to be included in the study. Some participants have continued with virtual workouts since the pandemic’s onset. No statistically significant change in loneliness or social isolation was reported 1 month after stay-at-home orders began.

See also: Muscular Strength and Mental Well-Being

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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