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older adults walking

One key element of healthy aging is daily exercise, and University of Pittsburgh Physical Therapy (PT) faculty researchers are doing their part to keep older adults on the move. With $3.1 million from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging, a new five-year study will examine the effectiveness of Pitt PT’s On the Move (OTM) program in community settings.

On the Move guides older adults through an exercise program that aims to improve mobility through a walking regimen. In the first stage of this project, a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) funded trial demonstrated that OTM was superior to a usual care exercise program for improving walking ability.

This project marks the beginning of the next phase of the program’s rollout: Taking the findings from the clinic to the community.  

OTM is helmed by principal investigator and Physical Therapy Professor Jennifer Brach, along with Pitt PT faculty co-investigators Janet Freburger, Jessie Van Swearingen, Pitt Medicine’s Subashan Perera, Bryan Wiener from the University of Washington and Hallie Zeleznik from the UPMC Centers for Rehab Services.  

Brach, who has over two decades of experience studying mobility in older adults, is enthusiastic to work with her team.

“We are the right people to conduct this research since we are the initial developers of the program,” says Brach. “We also have great ties to the community where we will test the program in multiple senior centers.”             

A major issue that this study hopes to address is the substantial research-to-practice gap, where successful programs that have been piloted through clinical trials in controlled environments can transition into the real world where the interventions are needed.

“OTM transitions a clinical exercise program to the community thus making it available to a greater number of individuals,” explains Brach. “Our results will impact the field by demonstrating the real-world effectiveness of OTM as a health promotion program for improving mobility in older adults.”

This stage of On the Move will employ a cluster-randomized trial that aims to accomplish three goals:

  1. Test the effectiveness of OTM in terms of improving mobility among 502 older adults in 44 senior community centers.
  2. Evaluate the intervention fidelity (the extent to which the intervention was delivered as planned) and how certain variables impact fidelity.
  3. Determine the degree to which intervention fidelity impacts the effectiveness of OTM.

Transitioning to a community-based program led by community instructors will greatly increase the reach of OTM, giving more older adults access to the interventions no matter where they live.

As Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) continues to expand its commitment to increasing health equity in all communities, On the Move serves as an excellent example of the intersection of data-driven research and compassionate community engagement.  

“Improving mobility and promoting independence is directly in-line with the mission of SHRS,” says Brach.