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Amid Lockdowns, Online Exercise Classes Help Seniors Feel Less Alone

TUESDAY, Nov. 17, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Participating in group exercise classes is good for seniors and not just in the ways one might expect.

The classes reduce loneliness and social isolation, according to a new study. And early results suggest that's true even after the coronavirus pandemic forced those classes to meet virtually.

"As the demographics of our country shift, more people are living alone than ever before," said study co-author Dr. Allison Moser Mays, a geriatrician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"The number of adults over the age of 65 in the U.S. is expected to reach more than 70 million by 2030 -- double what it is now. We need sustainable ways to help this burgeoning population thrive as they age, or there will be widespread consequences," Mays said in a hospital news release.

As part of its Leveraging Exercise to Age in Place effort, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center researchers tracked nearly 400 participants ages 52 to 104 between July 2018 and March 2020.

Each participant met with a health coach and was offered a choice of four classes in nine Los Angeles neighborhoods that had high concentrations of low-income older adults. Participants also answered questions about social connections and loneliness before starting the class and after six months.

Researchers found that study participants had about a 7% decrease in loneliness and a 3% improvement in social connectedness after six months.

Experts equate the harm of social isolation among seniors with smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

After pandemic closures, 59 participants continued virtual workouts and had no statistically significant change in loneliness or social isolation after about one month, according to the study.

The research was presented by Mays at the Gerontological Society of America's recent annual meeting online, and published recently in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

"The results of this study are very exciting because we've provided a model that other health systems can easily replicate by integrating evidence-based programs in the community with their organizations. They don't need to reinvent the wheel," said senior study author Dr. Sonja Rosen, chief of geriatric medicine at Cedars-Sinai. "The health coach is the key ingredient because they make sure that nobody falls through the cracks."

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out how much exercise older adults need.

SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, news release, Nov. 12, 2020

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