Beneficial effects of an intergenerational exercise intervention on health-related physical and psychosocial outcomes in Swiss preschool children and residential seniors: a clinical trial

PeerJ. 2021 Apr 27;9:e11292. doi: 10.7717/peerj.11292. eCollection 2021.

Abstract

Background: Intergenerational exercise possesses the potential to becoming an innovative strategy for promoting physical activity in seniors and children. Although this approach has gained attraction within the last decade, controlled trials on physical and psychosocial effects have not been performed yet.

Methods: Sixty-eight healthy preschool children (age: 4.9 y (SD 0.7)) and 47 residential seniors (age: 81.7 y (7.1)) participated in this five-armed intervention study. All participants were assigned to either an intergenerational (IG), peer (PG) or a control group (CON). Children were tested on gross motor skills (TGMD-2), jump performance and handgrip strength. Social-emotional skills questionnaires (KOMPIK) were assessed by kindergarten teachers. Seniors performed the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), including gait speed. Arterial stiffness parameters were also examined. Questionnaires assessing psychosocial wellbeing were filled in with staff. IG and PG received one comparable exercise session a week lasting 45 minutes for 25-weeks. CON received no intervention. Measurements were performed before and after the intervention.

Results: In children: IG improved all measured physical parameters. When adjusted for baseline values, large effects were observed in favor of IG compared to CON in TGMD-2 (Cohen's d=0.78 [0.33;1.24]) and in handgrip strength (d = 1.07 [0.63;1.51]). No relevant differences were found in KOMPIK between groups (-0.38<d≤0.14). In seniors: IG showed moderate to very large improvements in all main physical performance (0.61<d≤2.53) and psychosocial parameters (0.89<d≤1.20) compared to CON.

Conclusion: IG children showed large benefits in motor skills compared to CON while IG seniors benefit especially in psychosocial wellbeing and functional mobility necessary for everyday life. Intergenerational exercise is comparable and in certain dimensions superior to peer group exercise and a promising strategy to integratively improve mental health as well as physical fitness in preschool children and residential seniors.

Keywords: Functionality; Homes of the elderly; Mental health; Physical performance; Quality of life; Social-emotional skills.

Grant support

The authors received no funding to this work.