OBJECTIVES: To pilot test a new behavioral intervention to increase walking in sedentary older adults.
DESIGN: Pre–post community-based pilot study.
SETTING: Three senior centers in greater Los Angeles.
PARTICIPANTS: Forty-six sedentary adults aged 65 and older.
INTERVENTION: At four weekly 1-hour group sessions held at the senior centers, a trained health educator applied a theoretically grounded, standardized “attribution retraining” curriculum developed by a multidisciplinary team of investigators. Participants were taught that becoming sedentary is not inevitable with aging and that older adults should attribute being sedentary to modifiable attributes rather than to old age. A 1-hour exercise class including strength, endurance, and flexibility training followed each weekly attribution retraining session.
MEASUREMENTS: Change from baseline in steps per week recorded using a digital pedometer was measured after 7 weeks. Age expectations (measured using the Expectations Regarding Aging-38 survey, a previously tested instrument on which higher scores indicate that the participant expects high functioning with aging and lower scores indicate that the participant expects physical and mental decline) and health-related quality of life were measured using in-person interviews.
RESULTS: Mean steps per week increased from 24,749 to 30,707, a 24% increase—equivalent to 2.5 miles (2-sided t-test P=.002). Age expectation scores increased 30% (P<.001), and the changes in age expectations and steps per week correlated (correlation coefficient=0.39, P=.01). Participants experienced improved mental health–related quality of life (P=.049) and reported less difficulty with activities of daily living (P=.04). More than 50% of participants reported improvements in pain, energy level, and sleep quality.
CONCLUSION: In this small pre–post community-based pilot study, a structured attribution retraining curriculum accompanied by a weekly exercise class was associated with increased walking levels and improved quality of life in sedentary older adults. Attribution retraining deserves further investigation as a potential means of increasing physical activity in sedentary older adults.