Our Story: Living (well through) Intergenerational Fitness and Exercise

Early one morning in Corning, Iowa, nine older adults made their way to Alegent Creighton Health Wellness Center for an hour of LIFE — Living (well through) Intergenerational Fitness and Exercise. Younger adults introduce older adults to exergaming, video games that integrate game play with physical activity, in this Iowa State University Extension and Outreach program.

“We bring the research of the university to the people in a fun, interactive atmosphere, with physical activity and socialization. And it’s a great opportunity for rural Iowa to participate,” said extension specialist Barb Fuller, who coordinates the LIFE program in Corning.

ISU Extension and Outreach programs for health and well-being are designed to help Iowa become the healthiest state in the nation. Iowa State researchers are evaluating the LIFE program in 21 rural Iowa counties with funding from the Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

An Issue of Public Health

Iowa State began this project because physical inactivity among older adults is a growing public health issue, said Sarah Francis, an assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach state nutrition specialist.

“If we don’t address this issue, as the Baby Boomers age we’re going to see more chronic disease and disability in older Iowans — which translates into lower quality of life and increased health care costs,” Francis said.

Promoting Health, Connecting Generations

LIFE logo“Research has shown that exergaming is effective in improving quality of life and reducing symptoms of depression in older adults. However, what really makes the LIFE program special is the interaction between the younger and older adults,” Francis said.

Blaine Williams is a LIFE volunteer trainer and high school student in Corning. The LIFE program “gives me the opportunity to talk to older people and to share their experiences and have fun with them, and it gives me the chance to work on my teaching abilities,” Williams said.

LIFE participant Carol Cooney said the young trainers “make us feel important. They make us feel like we can do anything.”

Russell Hein, the LIFE Fitness Trainer at Alegent Creighton Health Wellness Center, appreciates the abilities of the older participants. “What I like best about the LIFE program is seeing their faces when they achieve something,” he said.

“I hear more people say as they walk out of here, ‘Thanks, that was a great day. I didn’t know I could do that,’” Hein said. “If I can give them a little bit something more, that makes me want to do my best for them.”

According to LIFE participant Marilyn Shellenberg, “It’s great companionship, it’s great exercise, it’s not hard on your body. It is fun.”

Low-cost, Community-based Approach

The LIFE program has the potential to be a low-cost, community-based approach that promotes older adult health while connecting generations within society, Francis continued. The program is an example of community engagement and service learning. It meets a community need — helping older adults become more active — while offering students the opportunity to become more engaged as citizens as they serve in Iowa communities.

In addition to Francis, the Iowa State research team includes Jennifer Margrett, an associate professor in human development and family studies and director of the ISU Gerontology Program; Warren Franke, a professor in kinesiology; and ISU Extension nutrition and health program specialists throughout the state.

Get Involved

For more information about the LIFE program, contact Sarah Francis, slfranci@iastate.edu or 515-294-1456.