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University of Worcester Students Provide Practical Support for Active Ageing Week

Final year Sports Therapy students at the University of Worcester delivered an adapted activity session for older members of the local community during this year’s Active Ageing Week (24–28 September). To provide a week-long programme of lectures and workshops focussing on a multitude of aspects relating to active aging, the University partnered with the International Council on Active Ageing (ICAA), an organisation that works with adults over the age of 50 to promote health and wellness during the ageing process.                     

This is the first time the University and the ICAA have linked, after the Sport and Exercise Therapy department at Worcester became aware of the event through its cross institute, Ageing and Physical Activity research group. Nine Sports Therapy students volunteered to take part in the session, which was organised and overseen by the Sports Therapy Programme Leader and Senior Lecturer, Christopher Holland. The students provided a valuable service to local senior citizens, while also gaining valuable hands-on experience in the application of Exercise Therapy to an age group with whom they would not usually work.

Participants were invited to join a variety of activity sessions on the University’s campus throughout the week, including Meditation & Mindfulness, Balance & Coordination and Seniors Fitness Testing.

One student, Zachary Read, led a station teaching the participants how to progress from a wall press up to as close to a normal press up as they could get, in order to develop strength for fall protection. He said:

‘The initial assessments I carried out were to ensure the participants felt comfortable with slowly allowing their bodies to fall against the wall in a controlled fashion. Once they were comfortable with that, I showed them different hand placement techniques to target different areas and instructed them in ways they could include coordination into this exercise. Finally, I slowly progressed each individual to find out where their optimal work load level was to ensure everyone was feeling tested but still comfortable in the exercise.’

Those taking part in the session initially found many of the exercises easy to perform, but were open to being challenged as the movements progressed. Zachary continued:

‘One participant hadn’t tried to do a press up since their school days so coaching them and showing them that they could get there with just a few simple exercises and progressions was very special.’

Other activities were available to those who came to take part and Charlotte Cuervo-Ayala was involved in leading one of these. She said:

‘We worked with participants to teach them how to squat correctly. We assessed their ability to squat onto a chair and measured their angle of knee flexion. At first the participants thought squatting was a simple task. By coaching their ability to sit appropriately, we could reduce their risk of knee injuries and back problems.

At first the participants saw this as a simple exercise, however, with progressions it became apparent that most people were loading their weight onto their knees with extreme lumbar flexion. After correcting techniques, by introducing more of a posterior hip tilt and instructing participants to engage their gluteal muscles and quads, they began to have more control in the movements and this increased their stability effectively.’

The sessions proved to be an enjoyable and useful learning experience for all of the final year students who volunteered.

Zachary said: ‘I loved the experience! All of the participants were very keen to push themselves and try new things which made my job very easy.

The session taught me the importance of starting by making the exercises as basic as possible and adding very small, gradual progressions to ensure everyone can find their limit whilst staying comfortable and controlled within the exercise.’

Charlotte commented:

‘I learnt the significance of correcting habitual movements to prevent possible injuries. I also learnt the importance of adapting exercises to the participants’ individual ability, in order to, for example, improve their balance before introducing single leg squats onto a chair.

Overall, this was an educational and rewarding experience to exercise our knowledge by helping the participants develop more functional strength and awareness of their movements.’

Christopher Holland, who organised the session, was pleased with its outcome and is planning to have the University host the event again next year. He said:

‘The experience was highly regarded by all of the students and allowed them to put into practice their Sports Therapy skills in a more ‘exercise therapy’ based setting. The ability to adapt knowledge, think and adjust quickly is a key competency that a Graduate must have. The experience of working with older adults in a practical setting allowed students to develop these skills and show that they could plan and implement personalised prehabilitation sessions in a contemporaneous manner.

The University is planning to continue its work with the ICAA, for which the Sports Therapy course and School of Sports and Exercise Therapy is going to take a leading role. We are also planning to offer similar sessions throughout the year which will develop our service provision and continue to grow our reputation within the community.’

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