UAMS Receives $434,000 for Physical Activity Study of Older Women

By David Robinson

The three-year study, led by Leanne Lefler, Ph.D., A.P.N., will replace traditional, structured aerobic exercise with physical activities that are incorporated into people’s daily lives. During the study, 120 sedentary women age 60 and older at the Thomas and Lyon Longevity Clinic in the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging will receive specialized motivational counseling from a social worker to help tailor physical activities according to each participant’s preferences.

“Research shows that people who are even minimally active live longer, healthier lives than those who are sedentary,” Lefler said. “You don’t have to go to the gym, but you should have at least 30 minutes of purposeful physical activity at least five days a week, whether it’s playing catch with your grandchildren, walking, mopping the floor or gardening.”

The activities can be done in three 10-minute sessions each day and still meet the American Heart Association’s latest exercise guidelines for seniors. 

Lefler, who conducted three pilot studies before receiving the NIH award, has found that many older adults have fallen into the trap of believing they have to go to the gym or do very strenuous exercise to achieve any health benefits. She and her interdisciplinary research team, which includes a geriatrician, two nurses and a social worker, believe that interventions that inform people about the benefits of physical activity and that are tailored to individual needs will be more effective in changing health behavior than traditional methods.

By using specially trained social workers to motivate people to craft physical activity routines that fit into their lifestyle, Lefler said, the participants are much more likely to sustain those exercises. In the future she hopes that primary care physicians will be able to refer older sedentary patients to social workers or others trained to provide such counseling. 

Lefler was awarded NIH funding after receiving a letter of support and a commitment of $30,000 from the UAMS Translational Research Institute.

“More than 97 percent of older women – more than any other population group – do not meet the national guidelines for physical activity,” Lefler said. “Thanks to the Translational Research Institute and the National Institutes for Health, we are excited to be working on a study that should have long-term benefits for this important demographic.”

Lefler’s project originally just missed the cut for NIH funding though it received favorable comments from an NIH review panel. The Translational Research Institute (TRI) stepped in after Lefler shared this news with Cornelia Beck, Ph.D., R.N., a veteran geriatrics researcher and institute co-director and cabinet member.

After reviewing the study, the institute provided a letter of support and a commitment of $30,000. The NIH study section that reviewed Lefler’s application cited the institute’s support.  

“Dr. Lefler’s resubmission to the NIH was supported by the Translational Research Institute because her study addresses a widespread problem among older women with a unique and promising approach,” said institute director Curtis Lowery, M.D. “Our institute was created to help ‘translate’ UAMS’ knowledge, treatments and best practices out into the community, and this study certainly is in keeping with that mission.”

The UAMS Translational Research Institute is supported by a grant from NIH’s National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).  

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. Named best Little Rock metropolitan area hospital by U.S. News & World Report, it is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has more than 2,800 students and 775 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or