NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Physical activity programs for aging baby boomers and seniors, developed and tested in research settings, can be successfully implemented on a large scale through community organizations, according to results from the “Active for Life” program.

The program used two lifestyle interventions aimed at older adults: Active Choices, a telephone coaching program, and Active Living Every Day, a group-based program.

“Many programs shown to be effective in research studies are never disseminated more widely and thus, don’t impact public health,” Dr. Sara Wilcox, from the University of South Carolina, who was involved in the research, noted in a university-issued statement. “This initiative was different because it showed that community-based organizations could put these two programs in place, reach a large number of older adults, and produce meaningful changes.”

The Active for Life program was established in 2003 at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The goals of the program were to learn how research-based programs need to be adapted for broader implementation in real-world settings.

The Active Choices program is a 6-month program consisting of one face-to-face meeting between a participant and a health educator during which a physical activity plan is generated and activity goals are set. The participant is given a pedometer and exercise log and follow-up telephone pep talks.

The Active Living Every Day program is a 12-week physical activity intervention delivered in small groups with the goal of accumulating 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days.

Wilcox and her colleagues looked at data on almost 6,000 people who participated in the programs between 2003 and 2007 at 12 sites. Those in the Active Choices program averaged 65 years of age while those in the Active Living Every Day program were around 70 years old on average.

The researchers report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that the programs produced significant increases in total physical activity, as well as increases in moderate to vigorous intensity, in particular.

The programs helped the participants lose weight and feel better about how they looked physically and how their body functioned. Participants in the Active Living Every Day program also reported a decrease in stress and depressive symptoms.

Wilcox said this study is noteworthy because it shows that community organizations and health care networks can partner and successfully deliver research-based programs in their community.

SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2008.