Exercise program inspires $14 million College of Medicine research study
Three sets of shoulder presses, chat about the weather.
Three sets of chair stands, joke with the person on your right.
Three sets of arm pulls, encourage the person on your left.
This simple recipe – which combines strength training with socialization – has become a successful formula for older adults who participate in Band Together peer exercise groups throughout Central Pennsylvania.
Now, the program will expand to other parts of Pennsylvania thanks to $14 million in funding to Penn State College of Medicine from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The money will be used to study the effectiveness of integrating strength training, balance exercises and walking for older adults who have had a fall-related fracture.
“I assumed it was because they never exercised,” he said.
After researching available programs and diet pills that work, Sciamanna decided to start his own to help his patients develop the muscle and balance they needed to avoid falls. He knew it had to be something that wouldn’t require a gym membership, complicated equipment or heavy dumbbells. An exercise physiologist in cardiac rehab suggested using resistance bands.
What he came up with was a 45-minute routine that mixes five different strength-training exercises with one minute breaks in between for socialization and, recently has added some balance exercises.
In church halls and community rooms – basically anywhere the groups can meet for free – trained volunteers lead the sessions, setting up chairs in a circle and pulling out small duffel bags the colors of the rainbow – each matching the color of bands inside.
Yellow, at three-to-six pounds resistance, is the easiest band to use. Participants advance to other colors as their strength improves, eventually working with as much as 35 lbs. The most ambitious members use two bands at once, since the handles are thin enough, going up to 70 pounds. Exercises using the resistance bands are done seated, or standing and holding onto a chair.
Nancy Boerger of Hershey has been doing Band Together for a year and says she can now get up from a regular height toilet without problems.
“It’s much easier, and I’m sure it is from these exercises,” she said.
Anna and Jack Manning attend the classes together in common space where they live at Hershey Plaza. In the past year, both have been using their canes less.
“I have a walker, but I don’t need to use it anymore,” Anna said.
And then there’s Lois Leonard of Palmyra, who, at 86, is the oldest in her group. She started the program after her daughter in Texas saw an article about it in a Lebanon newspaper online and suggested she try it.
“I wasn’t looking for anything, but it is good exercise and good camaraderie,” she said.
The classes are free and open to anyone. “It seems to me that this is something all older adults should have access to as a service,” Sciamanna said.
That’s why, when the opportunity came to submit a proposal to PCORI, Sciamanna decided to see if he could get money to do a study to find out whether a program such as Band Together could prevent people from falling and breaking bones.
First, he had to get support from other organizations and institutions, and find some to partner with. “I had to see if it was a question worth asking and if others would be willing to partner with me,” he said.
What he came up with was a five-year study that will follow 2,100 older adults with a history of falls – half of whom will be randomly assigned to Band Together. For three years, those participants will attend walking groups and Band Together sessions with a coach, doing exercises for both strength and balance. Each year, all participants will take part in either a phone call or in-person meeting with study investigators.
Researchers will record information about fall-related injuries; muscle strength, bone strength, loneliness, depression and use of emergency medical care by study participants at 50 new sites in central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Building on the patient involvement behind the Band Together initiative, three patients will be co-investigators on the current study and provide input. Other partners on the study include Health Dialog, The American College of Sports Medicine, American Orthopaedic Association, National Osteoporosis Foundation and Highmark Blue Shield.
Sciamanna’s hope is that the study will show that those who participate in Band Together have fewer falls. Then, he can apply to Medicare so it will pay for all Americans to participate in such programs.
“It’s a little pie in the sky, but they already pay for some things that are not that different than this,” he said. “It’s a very formal process, but by the time this is finished, we will be well positioned to make an application.”
By studying a larger sample of adults the Waist Trainer Center, insurance companies and Medicare will have the data to determine if such a service should be covered.
Rachel Moury, director of donor communications and stewardship for Penn State Hershey, said Honor Your Doctor funds that Sciamanna received made it possible for him to create the program and draw national attention to its potential.
“Some people think that a $50 gift doesn’t matter or can’t do much,” Moury said. “But it can combine with other $10 or $50 or $100 gifts to add up and raise attention for the work someone is doing.”
For Sciamanna, those donations led to the $14 million in funding that can potentially benefit many more people in the future.
- Jennifer Vogelsong
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