Students’ Summer Research Project May Lead to New Fitness Programs for Town Residents

A summer research project for two Grinnell College students may lead to new fitness programs for residents of the town of Grinnell.
Grinnell College students Delia Salomon '14 and Matt Schaeffer '14 spent the summer measuring how exercise affects physical and mental health. Working with Liz Queathem, senior lecturer in biology, in a Mentored Advanced Project on Exercise and the Environment, the students hoped to identify barriers to exercise and develop programs that will make it easier for people—especially older adults—to incorporate exercise into their daily lives.
About the Research The two studies are very similar, though Schaeffer is researching the effects of walking, and Salomon is focusing on water aerobics. Salomon's study involves adults who took twice-weekly water aerobics class sponsored by the Grinnell Regional Medical Center and held at the college's Osgood Pool.
At the beginning of the summer, the student researchers asked each research participant to participate in a functional reach test and a timed-up-and-go test, two standard exams used to measure functional mobility. "Mobility is the single biggest threat to people's independence," Queathem explained. "Many elderly people fear they are just one fall away from a nursing home. Anything they can do to protect their mobility is valuable, and we know that exercise can significantly help reduce fall risks." Each project participant also completed a survey designed to assess mental health.
At the end of the research project (Salomon's study lasted six weeks; Schaeffer's lasted five), the tests were repeated, and the researchers compared the two sets of results.
About the Benefits of an Exercise Partner A member of the swim team, Salomon says that she was interested in the project because she wanted to make exercise more accessible to a wider range of people. Schaeffer is a member of the baseball team, so both he and Salomon are regularly active, almost without thinking about it.
"But when I started this research, I was surprised at how many obstacles there are to exercise," Salomon said. Even student athletes, she said, can find it hard to be motivated to exercise in the off season. For older adults, the challenges are even more numerous, ranging from transportation issues, limited mobility and physical discomfort (cold water, for example, can discourage water exercise).
One simple solution, the students found, is to participate in an organized exercise program or to work with an exercise buddy. Schaeffer's walking research involved two sections: in one, participants exercised individually by walking on a treadmill three times a week; in the other section, participants walked in small groups three times per week outdoors at Arbor Lake in Grinnell.
About New Exercise Partnerships Between Students and Town Residents As a result of the summer project, Queathem and the student researchers are partnering with Kristin Kahn at St. Francis Manor in Grinnell on a number of initiatives designed to increase exercise opportunities. Among the options that they hope to undertake are a fitness test that would be open to the entire Grinnell community, as well as a Columbus Day run/walk that would pair St. Francis residents with college athlete walking buddies. They are also interested in building relationships with the Mayflower, another local retirement community, which recently offered a class on how to prevent falls.
Queathem notes that these initiatives will provide a physical benefit while also strengthening relationships between students and older town residents. And Solomon says the project has already influenced how she thinks about her future. A biology and Spanish major, she's become increasingly interested in public health. "One of the main reasons I enjoy research like this," she said, "is that I can see it having a clear benefit. We're trying to bridge doing the science and benefitting people in the community."
About Grinnell College 
 Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many international countries. Grinnell's rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at www.grinnell.edu.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 19:00
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Students’ Summer Research Project May Lead to New Fitness Programs for Town Residents
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