Making the Golden Years brighter: A UTA study is aimed at helping seniors lead more active lifestyles

By Herb Booth

Ebby Halliday April 2020

Thanks to support from the W.W. Caruth Jr. Fund of the Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT), a University of Texas at Arlington multidisciplinary research team is developing a study aimed at helping older adults lead more active lifestyles.

Kate Hyun, assistant professor of civil engineering, is leading the $535,000 project. She says she and her research team are grateful to the Caruth Fund of the CFT for supporting the project, which seeks to help older adults become more active, especially those who may have become more sedentary during the pandemic.

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“We’re so thankful that the Caruth Fund of the Communities Foundation of Texas places value on how impactful research can benefit all of society,” Hyun says. “UTA is committed to research that improves health and the human condition, and it’s not possible without this sort of foundational support.”

The study, Motivational Technology to Increase Physical Activity, develops a two-phase intervention for older adults to increase near-term physical activity and change behavior toward a more active life.

During the eight-week Phase 1, the team uses principles of behavior change and persuasion to increase physical activities through conventional methods such as texts, emails, automated voice calling and flyers.

Phase 2 will employ smartphone apps equipped with interactive modules to boost daily physical activities with older adults. The apps use gaming, like Pokémon Go, and feedback interaction, like Facebook.

“The research team strongly believes that providing a channel for facilitating social activities and peer engagement would directly influence older adults to promote their physical activity and social participation, which provide a buffer from chronic and infectious diseases,” Hyun says. “The proposed project is especially timely now – as our large baby-boomer generation ages amid a pandemic – because it encourages older adults to adopt an active lifestyle that will help with both prevention of disease and recovery.”

Sarah Cotton Nelson, CFT chief philanthropy officer, says the project will help improve the health of the community.

“The Communities Foundation of Texas is proud to support Dr. Hyun’s work to strengthen mental and physical well-being through promoting active movement and identifying methods to build habits for sustained lifestyle change, which will create a stronger and healthier community,” she says.

Co-principal investigators include Kathy Lee, assistant professor of social work; Angela Liegey-Dougall, associate professor of psychology; Christoph Csallner, professor of computer science; Xiangli Gu, assistant professor of kinesiology; and Steve Mattingly, professor of civil engineering.

Csallner said augmented reality is an emerging technology where lots of research on novel hardware and software solutions is happening, “so it is exciting to contribute to this area by developing solutions that improve peoples’ lives.”


Stephanie A. Foster