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Get Fit at Home With DVDs

A new study done at the University of Illinois and published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences was the first to confirm that you can get significant benefits from doing fitness DVDs, enabling you to get in effective exercise without ever leaving home.

About 20 percent of fitness DVDs are purchased by older adults, yet there haven’t been any studies on whether they can be effective or what kinds of exercises would work best…until now.

Researchers led by University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley set out to test the efficacy of a home-based DVD exercise program for people 65 and older and whether a home-based exercise program could be as effective as classes offered in a central location.

They recruited 307 older adults from 83 towns and cities in central Illinois. Half of the participants used a special fitness video at home while the others watched a non-activity video about healthy aging.
The fitness video was the result of years of research on how to enhance the health of older adults. Called "FlexToBa," the program was designed to improve flexibility, toning and balance, three essentials for independent living and avoiding disability in later years.

The FlexToBa video included six sessions designed to encourage progressive exercise three times a week over six months. New challenges each month helped keep participants engaged and motivated to build on their achievements.

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.

"When we run these trials here at the university it's a lot of time, a lot of effort and can be an inconvenience for participants," said McAuley. "Physical activity is one of those behaviors that people find very easy to see as inconvenient and they will come up with any excuse not to do it.” A home-based program could reach many more people than a center-based intervention, and at a much lower cost, he said.

At the end of the six months, those who stayed with the FlexToBa program saw important improvements in scores on a battery of tests of physical function compared to the control group. These tests assessed strength, balance and gait, and have proven to be useful indicators of future performance, disability and independence in older adults. Unlike those in the control group, FlexToBa participants saw increases in their upper body strength and balance and were able to maintain their previous level of lower body flexibility.

"This has important implications for an increasingly elderly population who are at risk for subsequent declines in function and increased disability," McAuley said. "We now know that this type of program can help to prevent that decline, and possibly reverse it."

While the FlexToBa isn’t on the market, there are many choices available, with options tailored to a variety of fitness levels. Looking for DVDs that address flexibility, toning and balance will be especially helpful. According to the National Institutes of Health, you can set aside specific times of the day on specific days of the week to exercise or work in a few short spurts throughout the day every day. Working out with a DVD that has timed segments means you don’t have to do a continuous 30 minutes if you need to start with shorter spurts.

If you aren't used to energetic activity (or any activity) and you want to start a vigorous exercise program or significantly increase your physical activity, get your doctor’s OK first. Also talk with your doctor if you’ve recently had surgery or have uncontrolled health problems or chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis. You may need to follow certain guidelines for safety.