Residents of La Costa Glen, a continuing care retirement community in Carlsbad, Calif., are participating in a UC San Diego School of Medicine study to test how walking and staying physically active can help older adults age successfully.
Known as the “MIPARC – Multilevel Intervention for Physical Activity in Retirement Communities” study, the School of Medicine program is being funded by the National Institutes of Health with a $2 million grant. Five years of research went into the development of the study which measures the benefits of physical activity for older adults. The study was developed by Jacqueline Kerr, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and is being implemented at La Costa Glen by department health educator Khalisa Bolling and program coordinator Katie Crist.
The UC San Diego study uses a “peer leader” system at La Costa Glen in which seven specially-trained residents serve as on-site peer leaders for the other residents participating in the program. According to Joy Wiker, one of the peer leaders, more than 80 residents participate in weekly group educational sessions, walk in events led by the resident leaders and record their steps using pedometers provided by the program. The UC San Diego researchers visit the participants at La Costa Glen two to three times a month to assess the participants’ progress and answer any questions about the program. Every three months the researchers measure the participants’ progress and other health outcomes.
“The UC San Diego staff helped us define our personal walking goals and then worked with us to design our walks and activities to reach those goals,” Wiker said. “We will be participating in the program for about one year, during which they will measure physical functioning, cognitive functioning, blood pressure, and emotional and social well-being. The goal is to learn to what extent walking contributes to improving the physical and mental health of older adults.”
According to Katie Crist, MIPARC project coordinator, the program focuses on increasing the participants’ individual walking levels.
“Physical activity has numerous positive effects on seniors,” Crist said. “It can reduce the risk of heart attack, diabetes and other diseases, improve mental health, reduce the risk of falling, maintain healthy blood pressure, and enhance cognitive functioning.
“Unfortunately, less than three percent of older adults meet activity guidelines, which recommend 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week,” Crist said. “This test group at La Costa Glen has been incredible. Some people are in their eighties and nineties and are walking 10 to 12 miles a day. The changes in their physical stamina and balance have been very inspiring to watch.”
The La Costa Glen arm of the study will conclude in February 2013. The results of UC San Diego’s overall study – which will eventually encompass 16 senior communities – should be available by April 2014.