November 30, 2005

Counseling program gets seniors moving

By Charnicia E. Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Providing seniors with tailored
physical activity advice in an approach called the "Green
Prescription" program may be an effective way to help them
increase their exercise levels, according to the results of a
New Zealand study.

The findings suggest that "health and wellbeing of older
people would improve if the Green Prescription program was used
more in general practice," study author Dr. Ngaire Kerse, of
the University of Auckland, told Reuters Health.

"Older people are an increasingly important sector of our
society and health interventions should be offered to them,"
Kerse added.

Studies have shown that older people can reduce their risk
of death from all causes, as well as death from cardiovascular
disease, by increasing their levels of physical activity,
regardless of their age, smoking and alcohol habits or the
presence of other chronic disease. Increased physical activity
can also protect older adults against hip fracture and is
associated with better quality of life and well-being.

Furthermore, older adults may be more responsive to their
doctor's advice about increasing their levels of physical
activity and other prevention measures than their younger

Kerse and colleagues investigated the effectiveness of
physical activity counseling among 270 sedentary patients, aged
65 years or older. The study also included 117 doctors in the
Waikato region of New Zealand.

Some study participants were assigned to a Green
Prescription physical activity intervention group, in which
doctors provided individualized exercise recommendations based
on age, medical condition, capability and everyday activities,
and faxed those recommendations to trained exercise
specialists. The seniors then received follow-up telephone
calls from the specialists over a three-month period, in
addition to quarterly written material and newsletters. The
other study participants were assigned to usual care from their

Only about three percent of New Zealanders each year
receive a Green Prescription from their physician, the
researchers note.

They found that seniors assigned to the Green Prescription
group reported spending about 40 additional minutes per week
engaged in leisure time moderate and vigorous activity after
the year-long follow-up, compared with seniors in the usual
care group, Kerse and colleagues report in the Journal of the
American Geriatrics Society. The Green Prescription group also
burned nearly three more kilocalories per kilogram each week
than their peers did, the report indicates.

What's more, seniors who participated in the Green
Prescription intervention also exhibited improvements in
measures of vitality and general health, and experienced fewer
hospitalizations than did seniors in the comparison group.

"This report should reinforce efforts to emphasize activity
to older people," Kerse and colleagues write.

"Older people are just as responsive to activity programs
as younger groups and are able to make meaningful increases in
their level of activity relatively easily," Kerse told Reuters

Whether the findings can be generalized to other countries
is not known, but "it may be possible to implement a similar
activity-promotion program" in the United States, for example,
where comparable services are available through large health
maintenance organizations, the researcher note.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,
November 2005.