MUSCLING up in the gym isn't just for the Gen Y and the older Gen Z; it's great for Seniors as well.

The results of a recent research project have proven simple resistance exercises can achieve improved strength and balance, and better brain health.

Southern Cross Care's Dr Tim Henwood along with researchers from University of Queensland and Bond University took 245 Seniors, aged between 65 and 92, through their paces in the Muscling Up Against Disability study. Using the facilities at Burnie Brae, a seniors' hub in Brisbane, the participants, who are receiving in-home aged care support, had two progressive resistance and balance training sessions per week over 24 weeks.

"We worked with machines which targeted upper and lower body, and core," Dr Henwood said. "We then combined them with specific balance exercises. "Some of the exercises we used, I have been using in research for the past 20 years, so we knew they worked."

Eileen Rossi, 84, was apprehensive to start the project as she hadn't done any exercise for many years. "But, I knew my balance was going so I thought (the project) would be a good opportunity," Eileen said. "There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in my general wellbeing.

"My legs are a lot stronger which is something I was looking for. I don't drive and I have a lot of walking to do uphill to get to my home.

"The family noticed that I was a lot more flexible bending over, picking up things, and fastening the seatbelt. Reaching up to shelves, getting up on my toes because I am very short - there was a general improvement in everything."

Over the three years she has been involved in the project and then the weekly participation in the follow-up Burnie Brae Healthy Connections program, Eileen said she has come to love it.

Eileen also noticed that socialising in an active environment has also been a noticeable adjunct to the positive change in her health.

"After you do the machines they have balancing exercises and then interactive activities," Eileen said. The group get to practice doing more than one activity at a time, using both their balance and mind. "We do things that are fun," she added.

John Murray, 84, concurred with Eileen about the social impact, saying the mental activity is also important to physical health. "I was socialising very much with the other people," John said. "When we finished, some of us would go up and have coffee."

Since the project has finished, John has continued to attend the Burnie Brae gym once a week and practice the resistance exercises. "I make sure I do leg and arm work, tummy work and then Pilates on the mat," he said. "I have it worked out myself so I don't need to be looked after."

"I used to do a lot of walking," John said. Now he has more confidence to get out of his retirement village. "I plan to these exercises for as long as I can," John added.

"The idea of doing this is to keep flexible and keep my mind active," Eileen said. "You just know you get a bit slower, you don't do things as fast.

"It's something I really look forward to each week and I think any of my fellow seniors who want to improve their quality of life should do it," Eileen added.

 Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said the MUAD project report confirmed to the government that progressive resistance plus balance training has the ability of reducing the adverse effects of chronic diseases. He is now keen to see a great uptake of this type of physical activity by Seniors with a home care package.   

"Funded exercise programs for senior Australians are an option for individual clients of Australian Government-funded in-home care if such programs are part of agreed individual care plans," Mr Wyatt said. "In line with aged care reforms intended to increase choice for recipients of aged care, consumers are able to request their preferred providers of these services."   

Moving forward Dr Henwood is ready to produce a manual which will be available to aged care providers wanting to offer the MUAD program into place. He is hoping for further government funding to deliver this part of the project.  

"The Department of Health is currently looking at options to disseminate the results to the aged care sector and support the sector to consider the needs of their clients," Mr Wyatt confirmed. 


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