Cobblestone mat walking shows health benefits for elderly

January 07, 2004

A recently completed study on the health benefits of "stone stepping", an exercise method popular in China, indicated that older adults experienced significant improvements in mental and physical well-being, including reductions in blood pressure and pain levels. An article published in a recent issue of the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity summarizes results from a pilot study, which was conducted in Portland by Oregon Research Institute (ORI) scientists. Elderly participants in the study experienced considerable improvements in their ability to perform "activities of daily living", increased psychosocial well-being, and significantly reduced daytime sleepiness and pain. Participants also reported greatly improved perceptions of control over falls and had reductions in resting diastolic blood pressure.

"These are very exciting results," notes John Fisher, Ph.D., one of the lead scientists on the study. "We know that exercise improves the health of older adults, yet many conventional exercise programs (aerobics, weight training) are difficult to do or unappealing to many elderly people. Mat walking is simple, convenient, readily accessible, and a novel experience for all participants". In the exercise method, also called "cobblestone-mat walking", people walk barefoot on a fixed mat that has a smooth, yet undulated cobblestone-like surface. Cobblestone mat walking is rooted in traditional Chinese holistic medicine and the principles of reflexology, in that the uneven surfaces of the cobblestones stimulate and regulate "acupoints" located on the soles of the feet. These cobblestone paths are common in China. Although there is considerable anecdotal evidence indicating the health benefits of cobblestone walking, (e.g., pain relief, sleep enhancement, improved physical and mental well-being), until recently no controlled studies have been undertaken to scientifically evaluate its benefits and efficacy. Participants in the study were divided into an experimental group, the cobblestone mat walkers, and an attention control group, which received educational and social activities.

Fisher and his colleague Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., have received funding from the National Institute on Aging to continue the research. Research participants are being sought in the Eugene area. Eligible participants must have a doctor's permission to participate and must be aged 60 or over. Those interested in the program may contact project staff at 541-434-1507 or 541-434-1508.
Oregon Research Institute is a non-profit behavioral research center located in Eugene, Oregon and is committed to conducting behavioral research to improve the health of all citizens. It was founded in 1960.

Oregon Research Institute

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