Aggressive exercise program helps inner city, low-income disabled

October 24, 2002

Removing obstacles to exercise enables even the most unlikely individuals to get off the couch and see improvements in their fitness within months, according to a new study.

Diabetes, being overweight or obese, having high blood pressure and living in poor neighborhoods did not stop participants from attending exercise classes three times a week. Despite these complications and the time commitment involved, only one participant dropped out of the program, says James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"We anticipated that there would be a moderate to high level of absenteeism and a potentially high dropout rate because of the complexity of the participants' social environment," Rimmer and colleagues say in the study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

However, the 31 women and men collectively showed up for 87 percent of the sessions during the 12-week exercise regimen. Those study subjects also experienced improved cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and change in body composition, when compared with a control group of 13.

"The strong adherence rate was probably attributable to the combination of a highly motivated staff who maintained regular contact with the participants (e.g., called participants when they missed a session) and the removal of several barriers to participation, namely transportation (participants were picked up and dropped off at their home) and no charge for the program," the researchers say.

Previous studies have shown that lack of access to reliable transportation and living in unsafe neighborhoods pose substantial barriers to adopting or maintaining a regular exercise routine for many sedentary adults. This study found that the main obstacles to class attendance were acute illness or a conflicting medical appointment.

The study further showed that with proper supervision, especially of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and by gradually working up to a fitness goal, individuals with medical conditions such as diabetes could exercise regularly without much risk of injury or medical complications, Rimmer says.

"Since many people with chronic health conditions make frequent doctor visits to monitor their health status, one possible way of encouraging long-term exercise is to have them participate in biweekly or monthly exercise classes," the researchers suggest, adding that there are often exercise facilities located in or near doctors' offices and hospitals.
The study was funded by grants from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Human Development and Disability and the National Institute on Aging's Midwest Roybal Center for Health Maintenance.

Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or
Interviews: James Rimmer at (312) 355-2522, or
American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (619) 594-7344.

Center for Advancing Health

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