Best Practices of Organizing Strength and Balance Exercise for Inactive Older Adults

Karvinen E, Säpyskä-Nordberg M
Age Institute, Helsinki, Finland

European Conference on Local Sport Participation
Leuven, Belgium 12.-14.10.2010

In this presentation we describe the model of action in the national Strength in Old Age programme that started in 2005. We also show the good, local practices that were produced in the programme for the exercise activities of inactive older adults. Coordinated by the Age Institute, the programme was financed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Education and the Finnish Slot Machine Association.

The programme has promoted the autonomy of independently living older adults (75+) with decreased functional capacity. Best practices of organizing adequate exercise services for the target group have been developed in 35 local three-year projects by social and health care associations. The local projects have aimed to invite inactive older adults with decreased functional capacity to join progressive strength and balance exercises. These activities are based on research data of the multivaried benefits of progressive and regular exercise. The Age Institute mentors the work of the local projects through training, communication, peer development, and networking.

Importantly, the local projects have functioned in various parts of Finland in cities and rural areas. The quantity and quality of elderly exercise services have differed widely in these areas. The organizations developing the services have been quite different from each other, including local pensioners’ associations, health care associations, and service houses. Variety has been a great asset: the development of good practices in the local projects can be applied to other environments.

The development of good practices has enabled us to solve many problems: 1. How to find the target group and assess their functional capacity? 2. How to counsel and motivate them to participate in the exercise activities? 3. How to carry out successful and high quality exercise in diverse circumstances? 4. How to solve issues concerning transportation and assistance in order to ensure the participation of older adults? 5. How to recruit and train supervisors for the expanding elder exercise? 6. How to create cooperation between the public sector, associations and private sector for the successful management of the programme? 7. How the older adults can participate in the development of the activities? 8. What requirements must be fulfilled to ensure the permanent establishment of the local projects?

We shall present in more detail what we learned in the programme about activating a target group that was hard to reach, constructing services in cooperation with many actors, and training supervisors. In addition, we shall report examples of local exercise services where older adults
have been reached, invited, transported and encouraged to new activities.

This kind of model of a national programme – a network of similar projects, project guidance and the method of learning together – has, according to an outside assessment, effectively produced new knowledge, good practices and models of cooperation, and it has increased the services and the physical activity of older adults with decreased functional capacity. For this reason the programme has received further funding for five more years.