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Exercise program helps seniors make connections

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Outreach,   Research,   Students and Faculty

Something changes in your body when you're older than 40.

No, we're not talking about the general creaks and aches that come with age, but rather a change in your muscles that happens no matter how active you are.

"You start seeing a decline in muscle mass after age 40," said Rachel Salyer, a doctoral student in kinesiology specializing in exercise physiology at the University of Georgia College of Education. "But if you maintain an active lifestyle, you can reduce the speed at which you lose it. If you stay active, you will keep muscle mass."

The benefit continues as you age, she assed, because it's the strength of your muscles—not necessarily the bulk of them—that help you stay independent into your golden years.

But how much activity is required to keep muscles strong and healthy? To help local residents answer this question, Salyer and fellow doctoral student, Carlos Torres, are launching a study that uses the free social media platform Facebook to keep participants connected and motivated during and after a 10-week trial called "Project LIKE Dawgs." The study also includes an hour of guided exercise and education twice a week. Salyer and Torres want to find out if social media will help participants stay connected and motivated after the guided workouts have ended.

The students are looking for volunteers—preferably men, but women are also welcome to apply—age 65 and older who are active but do not take part in a regular exercise program. The 10-week study meets twice a week, 8:30-9:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, in the Center for Physical Activity and Health in UGA's Ramsey Center. Participants will also be part of a secret, secure Facebook group to stay connected with other study participants, and after the 10-week trial they will receive an additional two months of free membership at the Center for Physical Activity and Health (a $70 value), which is a small, fully equipped gym separate from where UGA students exercise.

The hour-long program will consist of 30 minutes of resistance training, 15 minutes of balance/flexibility training and 15 minutes devoted to education around the effects of exercise on your body.

Both Salyer and Torres have training in how the aging process affects your body—and how exercise can help mitigate its effects. Ideally, said Torres, by the end of the study participants will see an improvement in how they move and their flexibility. By keeping up with the exercises and staying active, he said, it increases the chances that participants can live independently longer into retirement.

"At the end of the study, we're looking to see a change in physical function. They would be able to move better, to get up better, to have a little more balance and flexibility," said Torres. "Project LIKE means 'Living Independently Knowing Exercise'—that 'living independently' is important. If we target this age, they can say, 'I want to live at least another 20 years independently.'"

Salyer leads the educational component, which reinforces this message.

"The idea is they will continue to have an active lifestyle after this study, so we don't want to make them so dependent on us that they don't know what to do without us," she said. "They can still do these things independently, regardless of age."

Anyone interested in being a part of the study can fill out a questionnaire or email the students leading the study.

© University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602