Exercise Right for Active Ageing, a national exercise program offering Australian Government subsidies for inactive older Australians over the age of 65, has been extended for another year due to COVID-19.
The program prioritises older Australians in rural and regional areas with higher pre-assessment subsidies than the subsidies for those from major cities. Participants are supported to become more active for 12 weekly evidence-based, age-appropriate group exercise sessions and pre-program assessments. Participants completing all sessions can then access a free post-program assessment.
Accredited Exercise Physiologists and Exercise Scientists around Australia deliver a range of classes including falls prevention, strength and balance, hydrotherapy and Pilates.
Importantly for rural and regional Australians, the program offers assessments and classes via telehealth, negating the barrier of distance. COVID-19 resulted in the ESSA fast tracking the development of a telehealth policy statement providing practical guidance on safe and quality telehealth services and supported our members with practical resources to help them transition clients.
Later in the year, we developed a set of Telepractice Standards to outline expectations for professional practice. These documents along with case studies and webinars ensured our members had the guidance to provide online classes to a high standard.
The program is most suitable for those:
- with a chronic condition, injury or illness
- who are on the wait list for an Australian Government Home Care package
- not accessing allied health services through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme.
Lung Foundation Australia ‘Lungs in Action’ exercise physiology instructors can also access the subsidies for their patients. In-home assessments are also an option for those with transport or other access issues.
The interim program results evaluated by Monash University on the 142* (15.2%) participants who completed post-program tests by April 2020 showed there were significant improvements across all physical performance measures: 30 second sit to stand; three metre timed up and go; chair sit and reach; and waist circumference, apart from grip strength. There were also significant improvements across all physical activity measures, including a significant reduction in sitting time. For health status, there were significant improvements across mobility, usual activities and pain or discomfort.
Program effectiveness differed by gender and level of comorbidity, with women demonstrating greater improvements than men across almost all tests and outcomes. Participants with two or more chronic conditions had greater improvements than those with less than two chronic conditions for physical performance tests and physical activity measures.
General practitioners and other health professionals are encouraged to refer patients to the program with self-referral another option. More information is available on the program and on local providers. Health professionals or community organisations can also email [email protected] with any queries.
*The findings of this interim report are based a relatively small cohort who had completed post-program testing by April 2020. As such, these findings need to be interpreted with caution. Furthermore, given the quasi-experimental nature of this evaluation (lack of control group), causal inferences cannot be drawn. The generalisability of findings to a larger population outside of ERAA participants is also limited.