New Canadian research has found that older adults are more likely to stick to a fitness plan when they can work out with people of a similar age.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia looked at 627 adults with an average age of 72 and enrolled them in a 12-week exercise program at YMCA locations in Metro Vancouver, with the option of extending for another 12 weeks afterwards.
Participants were divided into three workout groups; one group included participants similar in age and the same gender, another included participants similar in age but mixed gender, and the third included a mix of age and gender.
The researchers found that over the 24-week period, the participants who worked out with people their own age attended an average of 9.5 more classes than those who worked out in the mixed-age group.
Although the researchers had predicted that same-gender classes would lead to more participants sticking to the workout plan, this was not found in the results.
They found that participants in the same-age, mixed-gender group averaged 33.8 classes, while those in the mixed-age group attended an average of just 24.3 classes. Those in the same-age, same-gender group averaged 30.7 classes.
The team also noted that in the current study. the participants didn't want the classes to end and successfully lobbied the YMCA to continue the age-specific sessions that had been created for the study so they did not have to change to the regular classes.
However, grouping participants by age and gender were not the only strategies used by researchers to try to strengthen participants' commitment to the program -- participants were also given custom T-shirts to identify them as members of a group, and were given opportunities to socialize over coffee after class.
"All of this together points to the power of social connections," commented lead author Mark Beauchamp, "If you set the environment up so participants feel a sense of connection or belonging with these other people, then they're more likely to stick with it."
The team added that these strategies would be also easy to implement in physical activity centers such as community centers, fitness clubs and retirement communities to help encourage adherence to a workout plan, although they noted that the results suggest that providing separate classes for each gender could be unnecessary for gyms, studios, and other fitness centers.
The results were published in the journal Health Psychology.