Fitness that fits: evaluating the effectiveness of an individualized, choice-based, matching tool for older adults
Lang, Justin J.
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Background/Objective: A positive relationship exists between exercise and improved overall health; this is especially important for older adults since they have been identified as the most sedentary segment of the North American population. Communities may provide structured exercise classes for this population, but choosing a class that is appropriate for an individual’s fitness level can be a daunting task. The use of an individualized, choice-based, matching tool for older adults could allow individuals to select exercise classes that are appropriate for their fitness level. Thus, members of Lakehead University research team developed the Fitness That Fits (FTF) tool. Through the FTF tool development 28 exercise classes were evaluated and assigned an FTF level, which represents four different intensity levels. This tool is designed to match older adults with exercise classes based on the results of a functional fitness assessment, the Senior Fitness Test (SFT). With SFT results, participants receive an FTF level similar to the exercise class FTF level. Participants are then able to choose an appropriate class that may pertain to their interest. The purpose of this study was twofold. First, the purpose was to evaluate the effectiveness of the FTF tool in assessing whether a participant FTF level matched the level assigned to his/her respective exercise class. Second, the purpose of this study was also to gain a better understand of the underlying causes of any mismatches. Method: One male and 59 female participants (55+ years old) were recruited from a representative sample of 18 exercise classes that were previously assessed through the FTF tool development. Participants completed the SFT, and results were analyzed to determine if the participant FTF level matched the FTF level of their self-selected exercise class. Participants also completed a survey to explore whether they believed their exercise class FTF level was appropriately assigned, potential factors for participant FTF level and class FTF level mismatch, and participants’ views on the future applicability of the Fitness that Fits tool. Results: Thirty percent of participants FTF level matched their self-selected exercise class FTF level. Three factors were identified to explain possible mismatched participants: the participant selected a class that was not appropriate to his/her fitness level, the class fitness level may not have been assigned appropriately, or the functional fitness assessment did not assign participants an accurate fitness level. Conclusion: In total, 30% of participants matched their self-selected exercise class FTF level. This study was a preliminary descriptive project that was the first of its kind to use a SFT to determine a composite functional fitness score. It was also the first to assign exercise class intensity levels based on functional fitness. The majority of participants indicated that the Fitness that Fits tool may be especially useful to help beginners to select a suitable exercise class, highlighting an area for future research.