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A fitness program for older Veterans

September 1, 2020


Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/Zinkevych

In the mid-1980s, the Durham VA Health Care System began offering Gerofit, an exercise and health promotion program for older Veterans. The program was developed at the VA Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center (GRECC). Program participants, who must be 65 or older, attend a three-day-a-week facility-based exercise program offering structured exercise customized to their health status and underlying health problems.

Trainers work individually with each Veteran to develop a personalized exercise program. These exercises can include aerobics, strength training, and group-based classes to improve mobility and balance such as tai chi and dancing.

A 2018 study found Gerofit is “a highly successful exercise program for older Veterans” and can provide “life-altering benefits for individuals.” An earlier study, published in 1994, found the program provides older Veterans with improvements in functioning that are maintained for five years after they end their participation in the program.

Why is this important? Because for most Americans physical activity decreases with age. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, only 15% of adults aged 65 or older and 5% of those 85 and older report they are regularly physically active. A significant body of evidence links low physical activity to poor health outcomes including death, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive impairment.

Today, Gerofit is available at 17 VA facilities throughout the United States. VA’s Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care and its Office of Rural Health have committed $10 million over the past five years to expand the program and develop new ways to deliver its benefits, such as tele-video exercise to rural Veterans. For her work on this program and other research in the field of exercise and aging, in 2020 Dr. Miriam Morey received the highest honor VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service provides—the Paul B. Magnuson Award.

Principal investigator: Dr. Miriam Morey, Durham VA Health Care System

Selected publications:

Gerofit—a program promoting exercise and health for older Veterans, VA Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care website

VA geriatrics researcher Dr. Miriam Morey receives Paul B. Magnuson Award, VA Office of Research and Development website, April 7, 2020

Providing rural Veterans with access to exercise through Gerofit. Briggs BC, Jain C, Morey MC, Blanchard EH, Lee CC, Valencia WM, Oursier KK. Fed Pract. 2018 Nov;35(11):16-23.

Should structured exercise be promoted as a model of care? Dissemination of the Department of Veterans Affairs Gerofit program. Morey MC, et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018 May;66(5):1009-1016.

The Gerofit Program: a VA innovation. Morey MC, Crowley GM, Robbins MS, Cowper PA, Sullivan Jr. RJ. South Med J. 1994 May;87(5):S83-7.

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