Fitness DVDs are a multimillion-dollar business, and those targeting adults over the age of 55 are a major part of the market. With names like "Boomers on the Move," "Stronger Seniors" and "Ageless Yoga," the programs promise much, but few have ever been rigorously tested.
"There are tons of DVDs out there, 20 percent of them are purchased by older adults, and with few exceptions there is no evidence that they work," said University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley, who led a new study testing the efficacy of a home-based DVD exercise program for people 65 and older.
The study appears in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.
The researchers recruited 307 older adults from 83 towns and cities in Central Illinois. Half of the participants used a special fitness video at home. The others, a control group, watched a different video about healthy aging.
The fitness video was an outgrowth of years of research on interventions to enhance the health of older adults. The program, called "FlexToBa" (flex-toe-bah), was designed to improve flexibility, toning and balance, three components of function associated with the maintenance of independent living and avoidance of disability in older adults.
The FlexToBa video included several hours of instruction presented over six sessions meant to encourage progressive exercise three times a week over six months. New challenges each month helped keep participants engaged and encouraged them to build on their achievements.
In each session of the FlexToBa video, a presenter demonstrated a series of exercises, with age-appropriate models offering alternate approaches for those who found the exercises too challenging or too easy.
"We were very conscious of the fact that we wanted to make something that would reach a broad array of performance levels and physical capabilities," McAuley said.
Participants were asked to complete daily exercise logs and received short support telephone calls with exercise tips every other week for the first two months, and then every month. The control group also received the telephone calls.
The researchers were interested in whether a home-based exercise program could be as effective as classes offered in a central location, McAuley said.