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Jan 19, 2023

"I really believe in the value of doing research" - REACH BC Volunteer



Elizabeth Brennan - Volunteer story

Elizabeth Brennan, age 59, lives in Victoria, BC and has for the past 30 years with her family. Her children were born and raised in Victoria and her youngest daughter now attends the University of Victoria.

Pictured below: Volunteer Elizabeth Brennan, Victoria.

Elizabeth is an avid Volunteer; she is passionate about giving back to her community and really enjoys the camaraderie she receives by getting involved in volunteering opportunities, both in-person and online.

A couple of years back, Elizabeth experienced an ‘empty nest’ for the first time, her kids left for university, and her husband and she retired early; suddenly, she found herself with a lot more free time.

When you are working with kids and taking care of your aging parents, you have all these things pulling you, it’s easier to put your needs to the side. You have to set aside time to exercise or to join an activity and then all of a sudden there are no demands on you – no commitments – it’s easy then to do nothing. You must be conscious of this.

Then Elizabeth read about a volunteering opportunity in Research, the ‘Empty Nest and Retiree Physical Activity', and decided to sign-up. It was a 10-week online course, each week she would watch a video, complete exercises, and answer questions. The study focused on the importance of physical exercise for retired empty nesters and its direct links to social connections and community involvement.

“My eldest daughter and I used to work out together but then she moved away, I found I had to be more thoughtful about it, my training buddy left! I was a little bit lost. I would do home exercises, but I am a very social person and that was challenging for me. I found my place, but it did for sure take a while.”

When Elizabeth was asked why she chose to participate in a health research study, she said

“I saw an advertisement request for empty nesters. I’m a big fan of volunteering so I applied. I really believe in the value of doing research, and if I can be involved, I am happy to as it helps to inform and create policymaking.”

Her enthusiasm and excitement for the experience can be felt as we sit and talk together. She recalls “Most of the modules were done online at home. I remember being diligent about it, one module per week, I stayed on track. The study was discussing the importance of social connection, and they would provide educational pieces on social connections for physical and mental health. There would be a weekly challenge to suggest how to go about doing this and that. I do remember that I started exercising very consciously … I would reach out to a friend to walk our dogs together. I was consciously thinking to find ways not to feel isolated. I remember there were animation videos with interesting statistics and facts on various topics and I would think about how I would integrate that into this week.”

Researcher Amy Cox from the University of Victoria created and introduced this study. For this feasibility study trial, Amy says …

”We recruited recently retired participants, as well as participants who had just entered this 'empty nest' period. We do randomized controlled trials here at the Lab, so typically there is a control and an intervention group. When participants sign up they were randomized to either group."

Pictured above: Researcher Amy Cox, University of Victoria.

The physical activity intervention for this project was a self-guided, online administered 10-week program. "At our lab, we typically focus on family physical activity (PA) interventions, as we know that at the onset of parenthood is associated with significant declines in PA; however, we noted that other life transitions, such as launching children and retirement, could possibly reduce barriers to regular PA, through reducing familial and work-related responsibilities. One of our questions was whether or not the onset of retirement and empty nest period might offer a unique ‘window of opportunity' to influence regular PA".

The primary outcome of the study was not if the online platform intervention was effective, but rather a test of how the processes of the study and model outcomes, should a future operational larger effectiveness trial be conducted. For this particular study, they looked at how it performed in terms of recruitment, retention, and satisfaction. Research has established that regular moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) is a critical health protective behavior for aging adults, however, sufficient rates of MVPA remain low worldwide, and in Canada.

Researcher Cox explains the significance of the trial...

These already low rates of physical activity have been an increased worry in recent times, with the pandemic-related stay-at-home directives, which may have exacerbated some adults' physical and social activities. Physical activity participation is important to maintain physical health and increase aging adults’ ability to remain independent, but may also promote social connectedness in community, contributing to overall social and mental health

Therefore, physical intervention has a role in the health of aging populations and the larger goals of public health and studies like this are critical in learning what’s the best platform and method to inform future initiatives

When asked if she would recommend participating in a health research study to a friend, Elizabeth said … I see the value in participating, if they haven’t got people to do this, they are not going to learn things. I encouraged my younger daughter to do it, as I m a big believer in it. Sometimes people are cautious because they think it’s a huge commitment and it wasn’t a huge commitment.”

If you are interested in learning more about how you can participate in a health research study in BC sign up here today ! Anyone Age 16+ years can become a Volunteer.

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