Background: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, experts in mental health science emphasized the importance of developing and evaluating approaches to support and maintain the mental health of older adults.
Objective: The aim of this study was to assess whether a group-based exercise program relative to a personal exercise program (both delivered online) and waitlist control (WLC) can improve the psychological health of previously low active older adults during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods: The Seniors COVID-19 Pandemic and Exercise (SCOPE) trial was a 3-arm, parallel randomized controlled trial conducted between May and September 2020 in which low active older adults (aged ≥65 years) were recruited via media outlets and social media. After baseline assessments, consented participants were randomized to one of two 12-week exercise programs (delivered online by older adult instructors) or a WLC condition. A total of 241 older adults (n=187 women) provided baseline measures (via online questionnaires), were randomized (ngroup=80, npersonal=82, ncontrol=79), and completed measures every 2 weeks for the duration of the trial. The trial's primary outcome was psychological flourishing. Secondary outcomes included global measures of mental and physical health, life satisfaction, and depression symptoms.
Results: The results of latent growth modeling revealed no intervention effects for flourishing, life satisfaction, or depression symptoms (P>.05 for all). Participants in the group condition displayed improved mental health relative to WLC participants over the first 10 weeks (effect size [ES]=0.288-0.601), and although the week 12 effect (ES=0.375) was in the same direction the difference was not statistically significant (P=.089). Participants in the personal condition displayed improved mental health, when compared with WLC participants, in the same medium ES range (ES=0.293-0.565) over the first 8 weeks, and while the effects were of a similar magnitude at weeks 10 (ES=0.455, P=.069) and 12 (ES=0.258, P=.353), they were not statistically significant. In addition, participants in the group condition displayed improvements in physical health when compared with the WLC (ES=0.079-0.496) across all 12 weeks of the study following baseline. No differences were observed between the personal exercise condition and WLC for physical health (slope P=.271).
Conclusions: There were no intervention effects for the trial's primary outcome (ie, psychological flourishing). It is possible that the high levels of psychological flourishing at baseline may have limited the extent to which those indicators could continue to improve further through intervention (ie, potential ceiling effects). However, the intervention effects for mental and physical health point to the potential capacity of low-cost and scalable at-home programs to support the mental and physical health of previously inactive adults in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04412343; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04412343.
Keywords: COVID-19; mental health; physical activity; randomized trial.
©Mark R Beauchamp, Ryan M Hulteen, Geralyn R Ruissen, Yan Liu, Ryan E Rhodes, Colin M Wierts, Katrina J Waldhauser, Samantha H Harden, Eli Puterman. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (https://www.jmir.org), 30.07.2021.