A Mobile Gym for Older Adults in Rural Areas

Salminen U, Karvinen E, Kalmari P.
Age Institute, Finland

18th Nordic Congress of Gerontology
Jyväskylä, Finland, 28.-31.5.2006

Age Institute coordinates a strength and balance exercise programme (VoiTas Project) for supporting the home-living of older adults in 2003-2006. It aims to promote the independent living, autonomy and quality of life of elderly with decreased functional capacity in eight municipalities across Finland. It is a pilot project for the national Strength in Old Age (Voimaa vanhuuteen), health exercise programme. The project wants to improve the mobility of the target group, especially the muscle strength of legs and balance. Local project teams have created models of exercise which effectively promote the mobility and domestic fitness of older adults.

A mobile gym was an experiential model in Pyhäselkä municipality in Eastern Finland between October and December 2004. The experiment aimed to provide exercise services for older adults in a rural area in the form of a mobile gym bus. An exhibition bus was customized with gym equipment and balance exercise equipment. The bus toured traditional shopping bus routes in three rural villages for two months, twice a week. Elderly people living along the routes participated in guided strength and balance exercises. The participants were collected through the home nursing system, direct contacts and local media. The instructors were a physiotherapist and the municipal sports secretary, who was also the driver. Evaluation was performed with tests of functional capacity, written client feedback, client interviews, and instructor feedback.

The mobile gym drew 31 participants aged between 52 and 87. The physical functional capacity of the participants varied from fair to good. At the beginning and end of the project, tests of functional capacity were performed, and individual training programmes and home exercises were instructed for the participants. The tests showed improved functional capacity. Almost all participants felt the activities were important in improving functional capacity. In the feedback, social contacts and psychological well-being were essential. Regular meetings promoted group feeling, decreased loneliness and paced everyday life.

According to final assessment the experiment was successful. It increased the participants’ knowledge of how to exercise muscle strength and balance, and it inspired home exercise as well as made it easier to join the gym group at the community centre after the experiment ended, especially when the instructor and group remained the same.

In the future, the model will be disseminated through Strength in Old Age programme into rural areas using, for example, library buses. The experiment also gave an idea of a movable gym hut. The mobile gym is one model of improving regional equality. It provides an efficient and easily accessible rehabilitation period for those older adults whose participation is hampered by problems of mobility or other difficulties (e.g. new, strange activities or people).
Poster [a mobile gym.pdf]