Every year, Southwestern seniors produce capstone projects covering various topics, from scientific research to business proposals. This year, two kinesiology students, Riley Barlage ’23 and Blake Sitterly ’23, collaborated on “Grand Movement: Influence of Fitness Sessions on Static and Dynamic Balance in Older Adults,” a research-based project which studied exercises to improve flexibility and balance in older adults. With guidance from Assistant Professor of Instruction in Kinesiology Vanessa Mikan, the students submitted their findings as an abstract to the Texas Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSMC), where they were selected as finalists.

In the spring of 2022, Barlage served as an intern at Grand Living at Georgetown, an assisted-living facility where she helped with fitness programming, ran fitness classes, monitored open gym time, and developed relationships with the residents. That fall, she began another internship at Grand Living while Sitterly was starting his first internship there. When Mikan, their professor for a health promotion class, realized both students proposed projects focused on enhancing the health of older adults through physical activity, she paired them up.

The research project is a personal one for both Barlage and Sitterly. They had each seen their grandparents live in assisted living facilities toward the end of their lives and wanted to help older adults improve their quality of life because they saw firsthand how quickly it can deteriorate.

“At first, it was difficult to go to the facility because you see individuals deteriorate in front of you. Some are nonverbal, some are chairbound, and some don’t even leave their room,” Barlage recalled. “But, I wanted to give back to this community. Even Blake and I interacting with the members was a good stimulus for them, and it felt good to go.”

To conduct their eight-week study, Barlage and Sitterly first had to recruit participants, which proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of the project. With the help of Grand Living’s director of fitness, Brittany Mariscal, participants were recruited through sign-up sheets, flyers distributed through the community’s mail service, on the community’s electronic bulletins, and through word of mouth. Next, participants were classified into two groups, active and inactive. The active participants regularly attended fitness classes, and the inactive participants did not regularly attend fitness classes.

When the study began, Barlage and Sitterly conducted a preassessment, which included several flexibility and balance exercises. Throughout the study, all participants were asked to maintain their regular daily exercise routines, which included strength training, water aerobics, FUNctional fitness, and flexibility, core, and stability classes. Mariscal trained Sitterly on boxing basics and let him lead classes where he scaled workout routines to fit the resident’s needs. Barlage worked closely with those in the memory care unit. She created and implemented the first chair aerobics class for independent and assisted residents and designed routines around some of their favorite songs from the 50s and 60s. Once the eight weeks were up, participants completed a post-assessment that was the same as the preassessment.

“Everyone at Grand Living loved getting to know Riley and Blake during their time working with the community,” Mariscal says. “For the residents that were not regularly active, it was an eye-opener. I now see them trying to maintain a regular exercise routine.”

Upon conclusion of the pre-and post-assessments, Barlage and Sitterly found the most regularly attended classes were flexibility. However, the study found that the pair’s central hypothesis, exercise leads to an improvement in muscular endurance and dynamic balance, was true. The study also concluded that there is a benefit to assisted and independent living facilities providing fitness programming that encourages physical activity, which helps reduce the risk of injury and enhances quality of life.

Barlage and Sittery credit Mikan with their success in being selected as finalists in the ACSMC. Mikan assisted the students with everything from instilling confidence in them to submit their findings to helping format their abstract. She also recognized the students did more than design a project and collect data. Mikan said the deeper meaning of the project was interacting with a community for several months, connecting with them, and experiencing something they will never forget.

“I am very proud of these two students and what they were able to accomplish,” Mikan said. “Both are full-time student-athletes, and they were able to balance academics, along with a 110 contact-hour internship, and all components related to capstone, including the Institutional Review Board form, recruitment, data collection, analysis, review of literature, and more! They worked within a community, learned how to instruct fitness classes appropriate for this population, and gained a meaningful experience.”

Both students plan to continue their kinesiology studies upon graduating from Southwestern. Barlage will head to graduate school at Northern Michigan University, where she will study exercise science and compete on the track and field team. Sitterly has been accepted at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where he will pursue a doctorate in physical therapy.