LIFE - Living well through Intergenerational Fitness and Exercise
- Need: Older adults in rural Iowa have inadequate access to physical activity specialists and/or exercise facilities, which limits their ability to remain sufficiently active.
- Intervention: Iowa State University implemented an intergenerational "exergaming" program to encourage fun and safe physical fitness among rural older adults.
- Results: Pilot studies showed that older adults demonstrated increases in strength, flexibility, activity levels, and confidence in their ability to be physically active. Younger adults experienced reduced ageism and increased knowledge and expectations of aging.
Evidence-levelEffective (About evidence-level criteria)
The LIFE – Living well through Intergenerational Fitness and Exercise Program began as a research project through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach to address the issue of physical inactivity in rural-residing older Iowans.
The LIFE Program was created to give rural-residing older Iowans an opportunity to become more physically active through a holistic wellness program that addressed physical, emotional, social, and intellectual wellness. The program's two phases – the program pilot test (LIFE 1) and the Extension-delivered evaluation (LIFE 2) – were funded through the Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Grants Program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
LIFE 1 took place in 2011-2012 and included 46 participants, with 18 students from Iowa State University aiding as trainers. LIFE 2 took place in 2012-2014 and included 277 participants with 79 younger adults statewide.
Watch these brief videos to get a better glimpse into the program:
This program implements low-impact, moderate-level exercises largely through "exergaming" — exercise combined with video games. Kinect Sports games (and previously a Wii gaming system) is used along with interactive games in order to facilitate physical activity.
Participants must be at least 60 years old, and young adults serve as trainers. This program is an opportunity for multigenerational experience and friendships and allows young adults to formulate more accurate perceptions of the aging population. This program also gives opportunities for socialization among participants and is beneficial for those who don't have access to gyms or aren't informed on how to exercise safely.
Since its launch in 2011:
- About 25 rural Iowa counties have offered the LIFE Program.
- Over 340 older adults have enrolled in the LIFE Program.
The LIFE Program has been shown to increase physical activity participation and perceived wellness, functional fitness, and well-being in older adults. It was also shown to reduce ageism and increase knowledge and expectations about aging among younger adults. Please refer to the LIFE website's Testimonials section for greater perspective into individual experiences and results.
In September 2019, the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) Adult Development and Aging Workgroup (ADAW) named the LIFE Program as one of eight programs "that exemplify strong outcomes."
For more in-depth information on program results:
Sowle, A.J., Francis, S.L., Margrett, J.A., Shelley, M.C., & Franke, W.D. (2017). A Community-Based Exergaming Physical Activity Program Improves Readiness-to-Change and Self-Efficacy among Rural-Residing Older Adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 25(3), 432-437. Article Abstract
Sowle, A.J., Francis, S.L., Margrett, J.A., & Franke, W.D. (2016). Utility of the Living (Well Through) Intergenerational Fitness and Exercise Program as a County-Delivered Extension Program. Journal of Extension, 54(4).
Francis, S.L., Margrett, J.A., Hoerr, K., Peterson, M.J., Scott, A., & Franke, W.D. (2014). Intergenerational Service Learning Program Improves Aging Knowledge and Expectations and Reduces Ageism in Younger Adults. Journal of Youth Development, 9(3), 47-57. Article Abstract
Strand, K.A., Francis, S.L., Margrett, J.A., Franke, W.D., & Peterson, M.J. (2014). Community-Based Exergaming Program Increases Physical Activity and Perceived Wellness in Older Adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 22(3), 364-371. Article Abstract
For LIFE 2, Extension specialists provided feedback regarding the challenges to implementing the LIFE Program. The main challenge was recruiting participants and trainers, and another major barrier was scheduling. The Extension specialists who were most successful worked with retirement communities that allowed non-residents to participate as well. The most successful strategy for recruiting trainers involved working with the local high school to allow time off for students. In LIFE 2, some schools offered physical education credits as an independent study to allow time for students to participate.
The LIFE Program website provides numerous resources for other rural communities. Under the "Materials" section, there are links to the following resources:
- Program Manual
- Recruitment, including trainer materials, general materials, and consent forms
- Trainer Workshop, including self-study modules, weekly guides, and tips for trainers
- Evaluation Tools: trainer and participant evaluation questionnaires and participant registration forms
Additional sources can be found in the "How To" section:
- Interactive Games: games to include in program implementation, a video demonstration, a list of necessary props, and downloadable instructions
- Safety: video demonstrations on how to ensure participant safety, including exercise modification and proper room setup
- Connecting the Kinect: video instruction on how to set up and run the Kinect and Xbox
- Kinect Sports: video instruction on how to implement proper form for mini-games and main events
- Recommendations for Kinect: tips including how to adjust a game's difficulty level
Contact InformationSarah L. Francis, PhD, MHS, RD, Associate Professor
LIFE – Living well through Intergenerational Fitness and Exercise
Aging and aging-related services
November 12, 2014
Date updated or reviewed
December 20, 2019
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.