Evidence Summary

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Peer-led exercise programs can improve adherence rates and physical-activity levels in older adults

Burton E, Farrier K, Hill KD, et al.  Effectiveness of peers in delivering programs or motivating older people to increase their participation in physical activity: Systematic review and meta-analysis  Journal of Sports Sciences. 2018;. 36(6): 699-678.

Review question

      What is the effectiveness of peer-led or peer-support programs in encouraging older adults to be physically active and improving health outcomes?


      Older adults are not meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines. Reported challenges to participating in exercise programs include social barriers such as no one to exercise with and being unsure of what to do.

      Currently, there are efforts to use peer-led or peer-support exercise programs to increase physical activity and physical function in older adults.

      This study is the first systematic review to investigate the effect of peer-led and peer-support programs on the health behaviours of older adults.

How the review was done

      A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 1976 to 2016 was conducted. Studies that focused on physical activity or exercise, peer or mentor, and elder or aging were included in the review.

      A total of 20,093 studies were identified in searches and 18 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

      This review was funded by the Australian Government’s Collaborative Research Network program.

What the researchers found

      Peer-led exercise may be just as effective as using professionals in maintaining older adults’ participation in exercise programs.

      However, the meta-analysis did not confirm whether peer-led programs improved physical function in older adults.

      Most medium-quality studies found that peer-support initiatives (such as providing advice, education and mentorship) not directly linked to the exercise intervention helped to improve adherence rates and physical-activity levels.


      Evidence suggests that using peer-led exercise programs may positively influence physical-activity behaviours in older adults.

       Further study with larger sample sizes is recommended to validate these results and understand whether peer support can improve physical function.


Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

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