Community Based Exercise Program on East African Immigrants

Name of Award

APDC Faculty Research & Scholarly Activities Grant

Date Awarded

Summer 6-1-2016


Physical Therapy

Project Description

Jennifer Biggs-Miller, MPH, Assistant Professor, received a $387.00 award for her research project Community Based Exercise Program on East African Immigrants. While many immigrants enter the U.S. with a healthy body weight, this health advantage seems to disappear the longer they reside in the U.S. Ethnic minority populations are found to be more sedentary and have increased rates of overweight and obesity, low fitness levels and low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, as compared to non-immigrant individuals. Low levels of activity result in decreased cardiovascular capacity, decreased muscle mass and therefore muscle strength, impaired balance and eventual decrease in functional capacity, leading to a loss of independence. Low activity level has also been found to be a predictor for disability, admission to nursing homes, morbidity and mortality. However, participation in community-based activity programs has been found to significantly increase emotional, mental and social health status, resulting in fewer activity limitations. Additionally, a recent study showed that individuals who participated in a high intensity exercise program reported feeling more confident and positive, leading to feelings of increased self-efficacy and an improved emotional state. This study also found that participants viewed group exercise as a very positive experience, which helped to increase their motivation and beliefs about their own capabilities.

Immigrants to the United States face many barriers and challenges to adhering to a physical activity program. Challenges to engagement in physical activity that immigrant populations in the United States face may include lack of education about physical activity, lack of time and resources, safety concerns, language barriers, minimally culturally appropriate resources, and financial constraints. Because physical activity is an important component of overall health and wellness, community based exercise programs offer a valuable resource to immigrant populations providing an opportunity to increase levels of physical activity. In order for these exercise programs to be successful, they must be accessible and fit the needs of the specific immigrant population.

The proposed faculty/student study will examine the self-reported impact (i.e., physical, mental, and/or emotional), as well as explore motivations and beliefs regarding exercise and physical activity, factors of influence, and barriers/facilitators to adhering to an established exercise program for residents of a local Minneapolis subsidized apartment building (Pentagon Apartments). The majority of residents in this building are East African immigrants age 55 and older. This exercise program is led by students from the St. Catherine University Doctor of Physical Therapy and Physical Therapist Assistant Programs.

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