Research on exercise programs—an approach of technological science
© European Group for Research into Elderly and Physical Activity (EGREPA) 2009
Published: 23 September 2009
Original research more often aims at general laws than at technological rules to establish the assumptions under which these laws take effect.
Authors omit important information on how interventions were executed.
Definitions and background theory may lack clearness, or there are terminological differences in different scientific traditions.
In the present paper, the problem is sketched in the following paragraphs. Below, possible reasons and proposals are given. It closes with an appeal to emphasize the methods section in publications. The focus is on original research, which is the base of every review based on original research papers.
Reading reviews on physical activity programs, often no clear statement on the effects of certain procedures is given. Sometimes results of collected research seem to be or really are contradictory or no meta-analysis is possible, because the designs are too heterogeneous. Doing a Cochrane Review on home vs center-based exercise, Ashworth and colleagues expressed this experience .
- Example 1:
specifications in strength training
- Example 2:
designing a new intervention
- Example 3:
implementation and diffusion
Lack of information becomes even more obvious, if implementation in real life settings is considered.
In many research papers, ways to gain a maximum effect are studied. In opposite to that, a question of practical relevance could be: “I’ve got one hour per week for health oriented exercise, how should I do it?” or “The administration budgets 1.50 EUR per inhabitant for physical activity promotion, how should we spend it?” In addition to these resource aspects, implementation and dissemination of an exercise program depends on action on certain levels: Rather than motivating the individual subject to take up certain exercises, especially with the elderly certain institutions, professionals in the field and maybe attitudes within society determine the success or failure of the overall intervention.
Analysis and proposals
One reason for the problem may be poor research designs or papers. However, the examples above also include randomized controlled trials and other high-level research. More likely, different scientific approaches seem to conflict.
human-made objects as their study objects
include the practice of design
use functional or normative concepts in definitions and evaluations
Training parameters in original research should be described comprehensively and clearly. This will help to do reviews and to draw conclusions from multiple studies. This will also help to get an idea how to implement research results into real life settings. For strength training, the scheme of Toigo and Boutellier  is helpful. In general, emphasizing the methods section of a paper may enlarge it. Therefore, some journals accept separate study protocols as a special publication type . The study protocol contains all the relevant information, which helps (a) authors of later reviews to include or exclude the trial and (b) program designers and implementers to learn from the experiences of colleagues.
Considering implementation, Chen [3, 4] goes even further and considers implementation a distinct “action model” of a program. The action model contains descriptions of (a) intervention and service delivery protocols, (b) implementing organizations, (c) program implementers, (d) associate organizations, (e) ecological context, and (f) the target population. In opposite to that, the change model  describes the general law which should be put in action. For example, considering a home-based exercise program , choice of exercises, wording of instructions, motivational material, and activities to reach the target group would fall to the action model. The change model could contain stimuli above threshold as cause of increased fiber recruitment and hypertrophy. According to Chen, action model and change model together form a “program theory”, which is defined as “a specification of what must be done to achieve the desirable goals, what other important impact may also be anticipated, and how these goals and impacts would be generated” [3, p. 43]. Unfortunately, a Medline search in early 2009 yielded no results of this promising approach utilized in exercise and physical activity.
The reader may or may not follow the theoretical proposals on program theory or the technological approach—everyone is invited to comment. Anyhow, emphasizing the methods section of original research papers would help a lot in compiling reviews.
Coming back to the European Review on Aging and Physical Activity: EURAPA started in 2004 with two annual issues, which were published by the Zinman College, Wingate Institute, Israel. Now, the journal has been published by Springer for 4 years: There are two issues per year, and the first impact factor is expected in 2010. In 2009, the citations of the 2007 and 2008 issues are tracked.
This gives occasion to thank the editors Michael Sagiv and Heinz Mechling for their initiative and endurance in implementing a new journal and establishing it. The journal also owes much to Springer and its staff in different departments—thank you for your support. Last but not least, thanks go to the scientific community—authors, reviewers, and readers—who contribute to the journal and thus contribute to develop the field we all are involved in. Please keep on submitting papers and reviewing them.
- Ashworth NL, Chad KE, Harrison EL, Reeder BA, Marshall SC (2005) Home versus center based physical activity programs in older adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, CD004017
- Brach M, Nieder F, Nieder U, Mechling H (under review) Implementation of preventive strength training in residential geriatric care: a multi-centre study protocol with one year of interventions on multiple levels [ISRCTN55213782]
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