Newswise — Could exercise be an important tool in improving the lives of those experiencing homelessness?

According to a study by Harrisburg University Physical Therapy Professor Dr. Tonya Miller, two colleagues, and students, the answer is YES!

The “Exploratory study of physical activity programming for women experiencing homelessness” has found that participants of a four-week physical activity program reported a significant decrease in the number of mentally unhealthy days they experienced.

The pilot study was conducted by Miller and Jenna Marx, Ph.D., and Lori Portzer, Ph.D., both of Lebanon Valley College, with research support from undergraduate and graduate students. The group examined the affect of physical activity education on health-related quality of life and the physical performance of women experiencing homelessness.

Participants included 27 women residing in two women’s shelters who were educated on the importance of physical activity and exercise. After they were outfitted with wrist fitness trackers purchased by Lebanon Valley College, participants engaged in weekly reflections on personal goals and participated in focus group discussions. During the last sessions, the focus group discussions centered on future program structure and content.

“This is the first step in community action research to develop a cost-effective physical activity program for women experiencing the program. The program's goal is to work with local shelters to educate women regarding the connection of physical activity with mental and physical health,” Miller said.  “We provide fitness trackers so they can see how active they are currently doing everyday things and how a bit more activity increases overall health.”

The program focuses on general mobility, chair yoga, body-weighted exercise, and resistive training using everyday household items. 

Going forward, modifications will be made to educational information and resources included in the program based on focus group feedback.

“Once we test these modifications, we will move to our next steps of providing a ‘train-the-trainer’ program to shelters so that they can incorporate the program into life skills activities,” Miller added. “The goal is to provide the women with skills for free preventive health activities and incorporated into everyday life, understanding that you can add physical activity into your day to improve your health.”