Feasibility of online tablet-based group-exercising among older adults in Siberia: Findings from two pilot trials

Svetlana Nikitina Daniele Didino Marcos Baez Fabio Casati

Background: Regular physical activity has a positive effect on physical health, well-being and life satisfaction for older adults. However, engaging in regular physical activity can be challenging for the elderly population due to reduced mobility, low motivation or lack of the proper infrastructures in their communities.

Objective: The goal of this paper is to study the feasibility of home-based online group training - under different group cohesion settings - and its effects on adherence and well-being among Russian older adults. We focus particularly on the technology usability and usage, and on the adherence to the training (in light of pre-measures of social support, enjoyment of physical activity and leg muscle strength). As a secondary objective we also explore the effects of the technology-supported intervention on subjective well-being and loneliness.

Methods: Two pilot trials were carried out exploring two different group cohesion settings (weak cohesion and strong cohesion) in the period 2015-2016, in Tomsk, Russian Federation. A total of 44 older adults (59-83 years old) participated in the two pilots, and followed a strength and balance training program (OTAGO) for eight weeks with the help of a tablet-based virtual gym application. Participants in each pilot were assigned to an Interaction condition, representing the online-group exercising, and an Individual condition, representing a home-based individual training. Both conditions featured persuasion strategies but differed in the ability to socialise and train together.

Results: Both Interaction and Individual group reported a high usability of the technology. Trainees showed a high level of technology acceptance and, particularly, a high score in intention to future use (4.2-5.0 on a 5-point Likert scale). Private messaging was more used than public messaging, and the strong cohesion condition resulted in more messages per user . Joint participations to training sessions (co-presence) was higher for the Social group with higher cohesion. The overall adherence to the training was of 74% (SD=27%). Higher levels of social support at baseline were associated with higher adherence in the low cohesion condition (F(1, 18)=5.23, p=.034), whereas in the high cohesion such association was not found. Overall improvement in the satisfaction with life score was observed between pre and post measures (F(1,31)=5.85, p=.022), but no decrease in loneliness.

Conclusions: Online group-exercising was proven feasible among healthy independently living older adults in Russia. The pilots suggest that a physical training performed in a virtual environment positively affect the life satisfaction of the trainees, but it does not provide support for a decrease in loneliness. High cohesion groups are preferable for group-exercising, especially to mitigate effects of low social support on adherence. Further research in motivating group interactions in training settings is needed.