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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jan 25;(1):CD004017.

Home versus center based physical activity programs in older adults.

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  • 1Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of Alberta, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, 10230-111 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T5G 0B7.



Physical inactivity is a leading cause of preventable death and morbidity in developed countries. In addition physical activity can potentially be an effective treatment for various medical conditions (e.g. cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis). Many types of physical activity programs exist ranging from simple home exercise programs to intense highly supervised hospital (center) based programs.


To assess the effectiveness of 'home based' versus 'center based' physical activity programs on the health of older adults.


The reviewers searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (1991-present), MEDLINE (1966-Sept 2002), EMBASE (1988 to Sept 2002), CINAHL (1982-Sept 2002), Health Star (1975-Sept 2002), Dissertation Abstracts (1980 to Sept 2002), Sport Discus (1975-Sept 2002) and Science Citation Index (1975-Sept 2002), reference lists of relevant articles and contacted principal authors where possible.


Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials of different physical activity interventions in older adults (50 years or older) comparing a 'home based' to a 'center based' exercise program. Study participants had to have either a recognised cardiovascular risk factor, or existing cardiovascular disease, or chronic obstructive airways disease (COPD) or osteoarthritis. Cardiac and post-operative programs within one year of the event were excluded.


Three reviewers selected and appraised the identified studies independently. Data from studies that then met the inclusion/exclusion criteria were extracted by two additional reviewers.


Six trials including 224 participants who received a 'home based' exercise program and 148 who received a 'center based' exercise program were included in this review. Five studies were of medium quality and one poor. A meta-analysis was not undertaken given the heterogeneity of these studies. CARDIOVASCULAR. The largest trial (accounting for approximately 60% of the participants) looked at sedentary older adults. Three trials looked at patients with peripheral vascular disease (intermittent claudication). In patients with peripheral vascular disease center based programs were superior to home at improving distance walked and time to claudication pain at up to 6 months. However the risk of a training effect may be high. There are no longer term studies in this population. Notably home based programs appeared to have a significantly higher adherence rate than center based programs. However this was based primarily on the one study (with the highest quality rating of the studies found) of sedentary older adults. This showed an adherence rate of 68% in the home based program at two year follow-up compared with a 36% adherence in the center based group. There was essentially no difference in terms of treadmill performance or cardiovascular risk factors between groups. CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE (COPD). Two trials looked at older adults with COPD. In patients with COPD the evidence is conflicting. One study showed similar changes in various physiological measures at 3 months that persisted in the home based group up to 18 months but not in the center based group. The other study showed significantly better improvements in physiological measures in the center based group after 8 weeks but again the possibility of a training effect is high. OSTEOARTHRITIS. No studies were found. None of the studies dealt with measures of cost, or health service utilization.


In the short-term, center based programs are superior to home based programs in patients with PVD. There is a high possibility of a training effect however as the center based groups were trained primarily on treadmills (and the home based were not) and the outcome measures were treadmill based. There is conflicting evidence which is better in patients with COPD. Home based programs appear to be superior to center based programs in terms of the adherence to exercise (especially in the long-term).

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