Promoting exercise for healthy brain aging in the Latino community

Penn Nursing’s Adriana Perez engages the Latino community in fitness classes through Tiempo Juntos Por Nuestra Salud.

Latino older adult communities are some of the most sedentary in the country, but one Penn researcher has shown that group fitness and wellness education classes can help improve universal health outcomes.

These universal improvements could lead to improved cognitive health.

Four older Latinx people with Ruby Rivera and Adriana Perez at a community health center.
Participants of Tiempo Juntos with community health promoter, Ruby Rivera and Adriana Perez. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Memory Center)

“To me, it speaks to memory,” says Adriana Perez of Penn’s School of Nursing. “The brain is capable of learning new things no matter what age.”

The CDC reports that 32.1% of older Latinos live an inactive lifestyle outside of work—the highest amongst all race/ethnicity groups.

This is largely due to social and structural determinants of health such as access to healthy food, healthcare, safe housing and neighborhoods, and reliable income. These everyday necessities are essential for healthy brain aging.

Latinos are more likely than their peers to face difficulty walking outdoors due to extreme temperatures or safety concerns. It is more likely for Latino communities to struggle to afford physical activity programs or gym memberships than white populations. Language barriers can make group fitness classes difficult.

To confront this challenge, Perez studies effective, culturally relevant strategies to engage the Latino community in Tiempo Juntos Por Nuestra Salud, which is a clinical trial that translates to “Time Together for Our Health.”

“I see exercise as a non-pharmacologic therapy for improving blood pressure and better clinical outcomes,” says Perez. “It’s a great way to not just promote heart health, but also memory health, sleep, and other outcomes found to be important in Latino elders.”

Over the span of 12 weeks, exercise group participants meet twice a week for an hour to learn indoor exercise activities and conditioning. Health education group participants have the same time and attention schedule; however, sessions are focused on topics that are relevant to older adults. Education materials are adapted from the National Institute on Aging and were recommended by focus groups in preliminary research.

This story is by Meghan McCarthy. Read more at Penn Memory Center.