Source. National Institute on Aging.
Purpose. The objective of this study was to determine the health and quality-of-life effects of moderate-intensity exercise among older women family caregivers.
Description. This study provided the first systematic investigation of the effectiveness of a physical activity intervention tailored to the challenges and needs of older women who are family caregivers. This 12-month randomized control trial involved a volunteer sample of 100 women ages 49 to 82 who were sedentary, free of cardiovascular disease, caring for a relative with dementia, providing at least 10 hours of unpaid care per week, and not participating in a regular program of physical activity. Study participants were randomized to an intervention comprising 12 months of home-based, telephone-supervised, moderate-intensity exercise training or to a control program that provided nutrition education.
The exercise training comprised 30- to 40-minute endurance exercise sessions prescribed four times a week. Participants were also encouraged to increase other forms of routine activity throughout the day, such as leisurely walking and gardening. Participants choosing outdoor activities generally chose to walk briskly in the neighborhood; indoor programs included the use of stationary cycling or project-provided exercise videotapes. Participants were instructed on how to take their heart rates, monitor their perceived exertion, and record their exercise frequency, intensity, and duration. They initially received a 30- to 40-minute face-to-face introductory counseling session. Once the study had begun, project staff contacted all study participants by telephone on a bi-weekly basis during the first 2 months and then once per month through month 12. Telephone contacts were used to monitor progress, answer questions, and provide individualized feedback.
Main study outcomes included stress-induced cardiovascular effects, self-rated sleep quality, adherence to protocol, caloric intake (percentage of calories derived from total fats and saturated fats, intake of high-fat snacks and sweets, and fruit and vegetable intake), and reported psychological stress.21 Study participants kept their own records (which they mailed to study staff on a monthly basis); they were also examined by study staff at the university at baseline (before the study began) and at 12-month follow-up (after completion of the exercise program).
Results. Compared to the control group, exercise participants showed significant improvements in the following outcomes: total energy expenditure, stress-induced blood pressure, and self-rated sleep quality. The nutrition control group showed reductions in the percentage of total calories from fats and saturated fats relative to the exercise participants. Both groups reported reductions in psychological distress. These results showed that properly tailored health promotion programs can promote sustained improvements in health behaviors that are important to the ongoing health and functioning of older women family caregivers. More specifically, older women family caregivers can benefit from initiating a regular, moderate-intensity exercise program in terms of reductions in stress-induced cardiovascular activity and improvements in self-reported sleep quality.21
Next Steps. Although this particular study has been completed, it will be replicated with additional caregivers, including homebound dementia caregivers who are unable to obtain assessments in a university setting, minority caregivers, and less educated caregivers.
Abby King, PhD
Division of Epidemiology
Department of Health Research and Policy
Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention
Department of Medicine
Stanford University School of Medicine
730 Welch Road
Palo Alto, CA 94304-1583
Phone: (650) 723-6522