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Gerofit keeps older Veterans active through personalized wellness

Around half of America’s Veterans are 65 years or older, meaning VA serves an increasingly aging population of Veterans. Physically active older adults are less likely to experience falls and related injuries. However, over 80% of Veterans who are age 65 years and older are not regularly physically active.

VA strives to reduce health disparities for older Veterans through targeted programs such as Gerofit, VA’s flagship exercise program for Veterans aged 65 and above.

Gerofit was developed in 1986 at the Durham, NC, Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) by Dr. Miriam Morey. Gerofit has fostered health and wellness among older Veterans through a variety of personalized strength, aerobic, balance and flexibility exercise prescriptions. Participant feedback and program evaluation results have shown improvements in Veteran health, mental well-being and physical function.

Gerofit instructor conducting a Gerofit-to-Home session

“When I joined Gerofit, I was walking with a limping gait and had to sit to dress myself,” said a Veteran from Battle Creek, MI. “After six months, I lost 25 pounds, can walk without limping and can put on my jeans without losing my balance.” 

The program structures its classes in a group setting, providing a fun, structured outlet for improving Veteran social health, supplementing personalized exercise prescriptions and guidance from experts. All Gerofit sessions are medically supervised by a team of VHA providers.

Growing the Gerofit program

Gerofit garnered support from Diffusion of Excellence as a 2017 VHA Shark Tank Competition winner. This enabled widespread implementation for Gerofit, allowing it to expand to a total of 33 VA facilities across the country.

The original Gerofit program was a supervised, facility-based exercise regimen that met three days a week in a group setting. In 2019 the program launched its video telehealth exercise program, Gerofit-To-Home (GTH), allowing VA providers to lead exercise sessions directly to Veteran’s homes. When facility closures and social distancing requirements during the pandemic were mandated, the GTH program played a crucial role in keeping Veterans socially connected and physically active.

Today, Veterans have more options than ever to participate in the program, with fitness classes at select VA facilities, virtual group Gerofit classes and the on-demand video library.

Building Veteran strength and social connection

Studies have shown that Gerofit participants have demonstrated significant improvements in diabetes management, cardiovascular disease risk factors, health-related quality of life, weight management and other health metrics.

“I credit Gerofit with being a major part of putting me on the path to lifesaving recovery from depression,” shared a Veteran who participated in Gerofit at Louis Stokes Cleveland VA. “The class is fun, healthy and makes me accountable to myself to get up and move and make healthier life choices. “

Providers also gain advantages from the program’s capacity to enhance the health and well-being of older Veterans. “It gives me satisfaction knowing that we are preventing disease in our Veterans and giving them the ability to live longer, healthier lives,” said one provider. “The social connections we get to make with our Veterans, their families, children and even grandchildren are special and go beyond what we can do in a traditional setting.”

Looking ahead

The program has been a cornerstone of geriatric care for Veterans for over 30 years. Gerofit has been a shining example of success within VA with 92% of Gerofit participants expressing high satisfaction with the program.

A recently published study followed a group of Veterans participating in Gerofit over four years and showed that when compared to inactive adults their same age, Gerofit participants maintained and improved function following exercise while the other cohort experienced declines in physical measures.

“Our mission is to provide care to enhance the health of our older Veterans and preserve their functional independence well into the aging process. Innovations in our program delivery to both in-person and remote models have greatly expanded access to Veterans that need us most, including those in rural settings,” said Gerofit Program Director Dr. Katherine Hall.

If you are a Veteran looking to learn more about Gerofit and where it’s currently available, explore the Gerofit website or contact your VA primary care provider.

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