With one in four adults over the age of 65 experiencing some form of a physical fall every year, fall risk is a major health concern. Even more, falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

To address these safety needs, two assistant professors in the Health and Human Performance Department, Brett Bruininks and Starr Sage, are leading the Mindful Movement project that is part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ SOLV Initiative.

Mindful Movement differs from other fall prevention programs in that it incorporates dynamic movements instead of static exercises (e.g., stationary balance) to reduce the likelihood of falls.

Bruininks said approximately 70 percent of persons 65 or older do not participate in regular exercise. The reasons for lack of exercise vary, from fear and safety concerns to dealing with self-efficacy, self-consciousness, lack of knowledge, lack of support and lack of community structure.

“Mindful Movement incorporates progressive exercise training, research and education to promote health, strength, balance and safety in an at-risk population, all in a supportive, inclusive environment that fosters connectedness and community,” Bruininks said.

The Mindful Movement project actually has its roots with research over the past two years by Bruininks and Sage on the efficacy of using this exercise model on fall prevention for individuals of older ages and differing abilities. The team completed a pilot study at a private wellness center in the western suburbs last July.

“The results were extremely positive, showing significant increases in strength, balance, improved gait and confidence,” Bruininks said. “However, even more impressive was the feedback provided by participants indicating the significant positive impact of the training environment on community, togetherness and inclusion.”

starr sage

Starr Sage, PhD

The Mindful Movement project expanded this past winter. As part of the SOLV Initiative, the team partnered with YWCA St. Paul to implement a more comprehensive eight-week program that included 40 participants. The first phase recently completed, and preliminary evidence shows significant increases in balance and strength among the participants.

The participants, who ranged in age from 65 to 89 years old, shared positive feedback on the project:

  • “I felt safe and that I could be myself and try things I had been too intimidated for the past 40 years to try. I can’t tell you what a huge boost this has been to my confidence and I’m very grateful to the skill and care displayed by the instructors.” – 66-year-old participant
  • “I have worked harder than I ever have before; this program is a step up from what I have been doing in other exercise classes.” – 74-year-old participant
  • “What you are doing is so important. I know that for my overall well-being, exercise is the number one key component, and this program gave me foundational skills in balance, strength and agility for the other exercises and activities I do. I would recommend this program for everyone.” – 71-year-old participant

Several St. Thomas students have been assisting with the project, including Carter Schmitz.

“This is about getting people to come back into our community, be a part of it as long as they can, and getting to do what they want to do,” Schmitz said. “To be able to apply the classroom knowledge to a training setting was unreal and amazing to do.”

More is on the horizon for the Mindful Movement project, including:

  • Extending the program to multiple eight-week sessions.
  • Increasing the number of participants,
  • Publishing findings from the project to promote understanding that aging adults can continue to increase strength and balance in a dynamic and challenging exercise setting as they age.
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