Contamination by an active control condition in a randomized exercise trial

Diane K. Ehlers, Jason Fanning, Elizabeth A. Awick, Arthur F. Kramer, Edward McAuley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contamination is commonly overlooked in randomized trials. The present study examined contamination (minutes of aerobic activity outside of exercise sessions) within an active control condition in a 6-month randomized exercise trial for older adults. We hypothesized that outside aerobic activity would be greater in the control condition compared to the intervention conditions. Participants (mean age = 65.06 years, 66.2% female) were randomly assigned to: Dance (n = 50), Walking, (n = 108), or Strength/Stretching/Stability (SSS; n = 48). Dance and Walking represented the experimental conditions and SSS the control condition. Participants attended exercise sessions three times weekly for 24 weeks. Participants recorded their physical activity outside of class on a weekly home log. Group assignment and covariates (age, gender, body mass index, exercise session intensity and enjoyment, and program adherence) were examined as predictors of weekly aerobic activity outside of exercise sessions. Participants who returned zero home logs were removed from the dataset (final N = 195). Out-of-class aerobic activity was lowest in the Walking group. Significant effects of gender, group, enjoyment, and intensity on out-of-class weekly aerobic activity were observed, all p<0.003. Higher perceived enjoyment of exercise sessions was associated with more out-of-class aerobic activity, while higher perceived intensity was associated with less out-of-class aerobic activity. A group x intensity interaction, p = 0.002, indicated that group differences in out-of-class aerobic activity were evident only among those with lower intensity perceptions. Walkers may have perceived exercise sessions as sufficient weekly exercise, while the Dance and SSS groups may have perceived the sessions as necessary, but insufficient. The lower aerobic intensity Dancers attributed to exercise sessions and non-aerobic nature of SSS may partially explain contamination observed in this study. Further examination of contamination in randomized controlled exercise trials is critically needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere164246
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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