George Mason University

News at Mason

‘Super-rewarding’ program gets on its feet

March 6, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Woman doing strength and balance exercises

Illustration by Marcia Staimer

Margaret Shachter’s feet are firmly planted on the ground. That is saying something because it wasn’t long ago the 75-year-old grandmother and retired religion teacher was having occasional trouble with her balance.

So when the Manassas, Va., resident saw on the monthly calendar of the Prince William Senior Center that a fitness program was available that could help senior citizens prevent falls, she was all in.

“It was wonderful,” Shachter said of the program. “They had us strengthen our muscles so we could stand and be planted and know we can’t be knocked over that easily.”

The program is called POISED (Precision Outreach Intervention Surveillance and Exercise). Run out of George Mason University’s Sports Medicine Assessment Research and Testing Lab with a grant from the Potomac Health Foundation, POISED uses a comprehensive model of education and exercise training to increase participants’ strength and heighten awareness of their surroundings.

“It’s community outreach,” said Nelson Cortes, POISED’s principal investigator and an associate professor of kinesiology and exercise, fitness and health promotion in the College of Education and Human Development. “We go out to senior centers, assisted-living communities, churches, anywhere there is an older population that may benefit from this program.”

The program includes three meetings a week over 10 weeks. Eight programs are ongoing and include educational workshops about falls prevention, information about how injuries from falls can decrease one’s quality of life and how to make home modifications to decrease the risk of falling.

The exercise classes, which usually draw 20-25 participants, are the highlight. Aerobics, balance, strength and flexibility are the points of emphasis. Participants do side-to-side step touches, punches across their bodies and seated leg extensions with cuff weights around their ankles.

“It’s amazing to see how much steadier they get, how much better their balance is and their stamina and mobility,” said Amanda Estep, a George Mason PhD student and exercise leader.

Benefits of the program go beyond the local community.

Cortes said the feedback is used to evaluate how the program used by POISED compares to other falls prevention programs. POISED’s program, Stay Active and Independent for Life, was developed by the Washington State Department of Health.

Mason students gain valuable experience as well. Estep and Jessica Pope, both of whom are working toward PhDs in education with specializations in exercise, fitness and health promotion in Mason’s School of Recreation, Health and Tourism, see themselves in the future as researchers and/or teachers.

“I’m not just learning from a textbook,” Estep said. “I’m able to apply what I’ve learned to people.”

“It’s been a way to learn how research can be done with outreach into the community,” Pope said. “I found it to be super rewarding.”