Abstract: Group Exercise As an Intervention for Social Isolation Among Older Adults: Measuring Social Connectedness in a Group Exercise Program (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

422P Group Exercise As an Intervention for Social Isolation Among Older Adults: Measuring Social Connectedness in a Group Exercise Program

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Cassandra Barragan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI
Background: The literature is clear about the physical benefit of exercise in the OA population (Guo, et al, 2014) and there is some research examining positive impact of exercise on mental health and social engagement (Wan & Wong, 2014); decreases symptoms of loneliness (Newall & Menec, 2014); and successful aging-in-place outcomes (Sonnega, Robinson, & Levy, 2016). However, participation in group exercise and its impact on social isolation are often excluded or minimized in evaluating the effectiveness of evidence-based fitness programs. This study explored the impact of social connectedness of participants of a group fitness program on feelings of depression in a sample of community-dwelling older adults (OAs).

Methods: Data were collected using a cross-sectional survey design. The survey was part of a larger exploratory study conducted to assess the effectiveness of a community-based exercise program for older OAs in improving or maintaining physical ability, health care utilization, and to explore social impact. A convenience sample of OAs (N=240) with ages ranging from 58 to 94, was recruited at an annual registration event.  An exploratory factor analysis using principal component extraction method and a varimax rotation of 11 self-report connection to a fitness group was conducted on an adaptation of the Loneliness Questionnaire (Hawkely & Cacioppo, 2010). Using the Kaiser-Guttman retention criterion of eigenvalues greater than 1.0 revealed a two-factor solution. This two-factor principle axis solution accounted for 66.8% of the common variance. Communalities were high for 10 of the 11 items, with a range of .839 to .593.  These two factors were renamed using recommendations of Comrey and Lee (1992) as “feeling close to the group” and “social connection in the group” with compound variables for each factor created for this analysis. A multiple regression analysis was conducted with Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) score as the dependent variable and “feeling close to the group” and “social connection to the group” at the independent variables, controlling for depression diagnosis, race and ethnicity, and life satisfaction. Multiple R for regression was statistically significant, F(5, 109) = 15.39, p<.001, R² adj = .39. Both feeling close to the group and social connection in the group contributed significantly to the prediction of GDS scores. For every unit increase of feeling close to the group, we expect a .821 reduction in the GDS score and for every unit increase in social connection to the group, we expect a .907 reduction in the GDS score. 

Results: The findings suggest that the Loneliness Questionnaire can be successfully used to measure social connectedness OAs feel in a fitness group. Use of the adapted scale also demonstrates that social impact of fitness groups is meaningful and have implications for OAs at risk of social isolation. We posit OA participation in group exercise programs can act as an intervention to mediate the negative impact of social isolation.  The impact of this finding supports the need to approach social isolation as a genuine health crisis (Lubben, 2017) and by promoting group fitness, social workers can help reduce social isolation in OAs.