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Science and the Reflexology Walking Mat

Professor K. John Fisher, Ph.D. (1947-2007) spent his career studying health and motion in the human body, first in physical education and later various studies of activity among older people, activity such as walking and Tai Chi.

Between 2003 - 2005, in a project for the National Institute on Aging, he published articles on scientific studies of "Cobblestone Walking for Elder Health," in which subjects walked on Cobblestone walking mats. The studies, conducted at the Oregon Research Institute, looked at improvements in physical function and blood pressure in older adults through cobblestone-mat walking.
ScienceDaily reported on the study in 2005:

Oregon Study Confirms Health Benefits Of Cobblestone Walking For Older Adults

ScienceDaily (June 30, 2005) — A recently completed study by scientists at the Oregon Research Institute (ORI) in Eugene confirmed earlier findings from a pilot study that walking on a cobblestone mat surface resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure and improvements in balance and physical performance among adults 60 and over. An article published in an early online publication of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society summarizes the study results in a randomized trial.

"These are very exciting results," notes John Fisher, Ph.D., one of the lead scientists on the study. "Compared to conventional walking, the experience of walking on the river rock-like surface of these manufactured cobblestone mats improved participants' balance, measures of mobility, as well as reducing their blood pressure. These issues are highly important for preventing and delaying the onset of frailty among older adults, as well as helping them maintain their current health status."

Cobblestone-like walking paths are common in China. The activity is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine and relates to some of the principles of reflexology, in that the uneven surface of the cobblestones stimulate and regulate "acupoints" located on the soles of the feet. These acupoints are purportedly linked to all organs and tissues of the body. Although there is considerable anecdotal evidence indicating the health benefits of cobblestone walking, (e.g., pain relief, sleep enhancement, improved physical and mental well-being), until recently no controlled studies have been undertaken to scientifically evaluate its benefits and efficacy.

"We visited China and noticed that adults of all ages spent about 30 minutes each day walking, standing, and sometimes dancing on these beautifully laid paths of river stones in the parks and gardens of large cities. They did this for their health every day of the week. We used manufactured mats that replicated these cobblestone paths and developed a special protocol so that participants gradually got used to walking on the uneven surface of the mats," reported Fisher. Participants in the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging (Grant AG20470), were divided into an experimental group -- the cobblestone mat walkers -- and a control group which took part in conventional walking activities for one hour, three times per week for 16 weeks. At the end of the study, mat walkers were found to have better scores on measures of balance, physical function, and blood pressure than those in the conventional walking group. This new physical activity could provide a different choice of physical activity that is therapeutic and health-enhancing and that can be done quickly and easily in the comfort of one's home.

Oregon Research Institute, founded in 1960, is a non-profit behavioral research center with offices in Eugene and Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico. ORI is a nationally and internationally recognized research organization, committed to conducting behavioral research to improve the health of all

An abstract of the main study, found at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2005.53407.x/abstract;jsessionid=AF03E98DF3C74ABE13E36A21EC20B718.d01t01

is:

Keywords:

  • physical activity;
  • balance;
  • physical performance;
  • blood pressure

Objectives: To determine the relative effects of cobblestone mat walking, in comparison with regular walking, on physical function and blood pressure in older adults.

Design: Randomized trial with allocation to cobblestone mat walking or conventional walking.

Setting: General community in Eugene, Oregon.

Participants: One hundred eight physically inactive community-dwelling adults aged 60 to 92 (mean age±standard deviation=77.5±5.0) free of neurological and mobility-limiting orthopedic conditions.

Intervention: Participants were randomized to a cobblestone mat walking condition (n=54) or regular walking comparison condition (n=54) and participated in 60-minute group exercise sessions three times per week for 16 consecutive weeks.

Measurements: Primary endpoint measures were balance (functional reach, static standing), physical performance (chair stands, 50-foot walk, Up and Go), and blood pressure (systolic, diastolic). Secondary endpoint measures were Short Form-12 physical and mental health scores and perceptions of health-related benefits from exercise.

Results: At the 16-week posttest, differences between the two exercise groups were found for balance measures (P=.01), chair stands (P<.001), 50-foot walk (P=.01), and blood pressure (P=.01) but not for the Up and Go test (P=.14). Although significant within-group changes were observed in both groups for the secondary outcome measures, there were no differences between intervention groups.

Conclusion: Cobblestone mat walking improved physical function and reduced blood pressure to a greater extent than conventional walking in older adults. Additional benefits of this walking program included improved health-related quality of life. This new physical activity may provide a therapeutic and health-enhancing exercise alternative for older adults.

 

Selected Presentations & Publications of Professor K. John Fisher

Li, F., Fisher, K. J., Bauman, A., Ory, M. G., Chodzko-Zaiko, W., Harmer, P., Bosworth, M., Cleveland, M. (2005). Neighborhood influences on physical activity in older adults: A multilevel perspective. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13, 32-58.

Li, F., Fisher, K. J., & Harmer, P. (2005). Improving physical function and blood pressure in
older adults through cobblestone-mat walking: A randomized trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 53: 1305-1312.

Li, F., Fisher, K., J. Brownson, B.C., & Bosworth, M. (2005). Multilevel modeling of
environment characteristics related to neighborhood walking activity in older adults. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 59:558-564.

Li, F., Harmer, P., & Fisher, K. J. (in press). A Tai Chi exercise program specifically for patients with Parkinson's disease: A pilot evaluation.

Li, F., & Harmer, P. (in press). Structural equation modeling and its applications in exercise
science research. To appear in T. M. Wood & W. Zhu (Eds.), Measurement issues and practice in physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Li, F., Fisher, K. J., & Brownson, R. (2005). A multilevel analysis of change in neighborhood
walking activity in older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13, 145-159.

Li, F., Harmer, P., & Fisher, K. J. (2005). Prevalence of overweight and obesity among US
older adults: Estimates from the 2003 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 53, 1-3

Fisher, K.J., & Li, F. (2004) A community-based walking trial to improve neighborhood quality of life in the elderly: A multilevel analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 28, (3): 186-194

Fisher, J. K., Li, F., Michael, Y., & Cleveland, M. (2004). Neighborhood-level influences on physical activity among older adults: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 11, 49-67.

Fisher, K.J., Li, F., & Shirai, M. (2004) Ezy Tai Chi: A simpler practice for seniors. Journal of Active Aging, 3:18-26

Li, F., Harmer, P., & Fisher, K. J. (in press). Prevalence of overweight and obesity among US older adults: Estimates from the 2003 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Survey. Journal of American Geriatrics Society.

Li, F., Harmer, P., Fisher, K J, McAuley, E., Chaumeton, N. Eckstrom, E., & Wilson, N. L. (in press). Tai Chi and fall reductions in older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Li, F., Fisher, K. J., & Brownson, R. (2005). A multilevel analysis of change in neighborhood walking activity in older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13: 145-159.

Li, F., Fisher, K. J., Harmer, P., Irbe, D., Tearse, R. G., & Weimer, C. (2004). Tai Chi and self-rated quality of sleep and daytime sleepiness in older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of American Geriatrics Society, 52, 892-900.

Rowland, R. M., Fisher, K. J., Green, M., Dunn, A.M., Li, F., & Pickering, M. A. (2004) Recruiting inactive older adults to a neighborhood walking trial: The SHAPE project. Journal of Aging Studies, 353-368

Li, F., Fisher, K. J., Harmer, P. & McAuley, E. (in press). Falls self-efficacy as a mediator of fear of falling in an exercise intervention for older adults. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

Li, F., Harmer, P., Fisher, K. J. & McAuley, E. (2004). Tai Chi: improving functional balance and predicting subsequent falls in older adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 36:2046-52.

Li, F., & Fisher, K. J. (2005). A multilevel path analysis of the relationship between neighborhood physical activity and self-rated health status in older adults. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 13: 145-159

Fisher, K.J., Li, F., & Shirai, M. (2003). Promoting health through Tai Chi: Results from a controlled study. California Journal of Health Promotion, 4:79-87

Li, F., Harmer, P., Wilson, N., & Fisher, K. J. (2003). Health benefits of cobblestone-mat walking: Preliminary findings. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 11,488-502.

Li, F., Fisher, K.J., Harmer, P., McAuley, E., & Wilson, N. (2003). Fear of falling in the elderly: Its association with falls, functional ability, and quality-of-life outcomes. Jnl of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 58B, 83-90.

Li, F., Fisher, K.J., Harmer, P. & Shirai, M. (2003). A Simpler 8-Form Easy Tai Chi for elderly persons. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 11, 217-229.

Fisher, K.J., Pickering, M.A., & Li, F., (2002). Healthy aging through active leisure: Design and methods of SHAPE - a randomized controlled trial of a neighborhood exercise project. World Leisure Journal.44, 19-28.

Li, F., Fisher, J., Harmer, P., Duncan, T. E., & McAuley, E. (2002). Delineating the impact of Tai Chi training on physical function among the elderly: Modeling the moderating effects of unobserved class trajectories. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 23, 92-97.

Li., F. McAuley, E., Fisher, K.J., Harmer, P., Chaumeton, N., Wilson, N.L. (2002). Self-efficacy as a mediator between fear of falling and functional ability in the elderly. Journal of Aging and Health, 14(4), 452-466.

Li, F., Harmer, P., McAuley, E., Fisher, J., Duncan, T. E., & Duncan, S. C. (2001). Tai Chi, self-efficacy, and perceived physical function in the elderly. Prevention Science, 2, 229-239.

Li, F., Harmer, P., McAuley, E., Duncan, T. E., Duncan, S. C., Chaumeton, N. R., & Fisher, J. (2001). An evaluation of the effects of Tai Chi exercise on physical function among older persons: A randomized controlled trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2, 89-101.

 

 
   
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