Older adults

  Population considerations:

  • Lack of past experience. Inactivity in older adults can be associated with lack of previous experience (King, 2001). Older adults may not be physically active because physical activity for health reasons was not emphasized during their formative years. A lack of understanding of the relationship between moderate exercise and health can be barrier for older adults who are of a generation for which exercise was not deemed necessary (Schutzer, 2004; Rhodes, 1999).
  • Fear of injury. Older adults may fear they will be injured if they are physically active (King, 2001).
  • Physical and mental health status. Some older adults have musculoskeletal discomfort or disability that limits their ability to be physically active (Schutzer, 2004; Rhodes, 1999; King, 2001).
  • Safety. Some older adults feel that it is unsafe to be physically active in their neighborhoods because of traffic, crime, steep hills, unattended dogs, excessive noise, inadequate lighting or a lack of visual cues to provide direction or indicate their location (Schutzer, 2004, AHRQ; King, 2001; Humpel, 2002)
  • Access to resources. Older adults without a place to go in their community to be physically active (e.g., a park or a recreation center) are more likely to be inactive (Schutzer, 2004). Some older adults may have financial constraints that prevent them from joining recreational centers or participating in activity classes.
  • Environment. Older adults also describe the lack of enjoyable scenery and an absence of needed amenities (e.g., public restrooms, drinking fountains, trees providing shade, benches) as things that prevent them from walking outdoors (Schutzer, 2004).
  • Transportation. Some seniors may not attend physical activity classes or programs because of a lack of transportation, or the transportation that is available does not adequately take into account for their physical limitations (AHQR).
  • Lack of support. Lack of social support (e.g., from family, friends, health care providers) is associated with physical inactivity among older adults (Schutzer, 2004; Rhodes, 1999; King, 2001).

  Strategies to address these considerations:

  • Provide education. It may be useful to educate older adults about the health benefits (e.g., physical, mental, and emotional) of physical activity.
  • Offer a range of activities. Strategies should encourage a range of activity types and intensities (van der Bij, 2002; Rhodes, 1999) as well as provide activities that take place in the water to limit the weight-bearing load. These strategies will help older adults to use a wider range of muscle groups, decrease the risk of injury and enjoy activities without feeling pain or losing interest.
  • Make physical activity convenient. The convenience of having facilities nearby is important to increasing physical activity among those who are no longer able to drive themselves or have challenges with using public transit. Some seniors may prefer to use indoor recreational facilities and classes.  In this case, it might be useful to work with recreational facilities to provide appropriate classes and programs and to address what may be financial constraints for some seniors by providing sliding scale fees.  Some have found it helpful to have a van to pick up seniors or to work with the public transportation systems to ensure that they are equipped with lifts or other assistance. Where appropriate, it may be possible to hold physical activity classes and programs places where seniors already gather or places they can access easily (e.g., senior centers, places of worship, salons, pharmacies, malls, schools).
  • Build social support. Providing opportunities for older adults to be active together may increase their likelihood of participating in physical activity (Schutzer, 2004; Rhodes, 1999). Support via telephone has also been successful in increasing levels of physical activity among adults (King, 2001).
  • Improve outdoor safety. Safe sidewalks, trails or paths for walking are found to be associated with higher levels of activity for older adults enjoy walking (King, 2001). Enhance sidewalks and parks and direct the traffic flow around them in order to help older adults feel more comfortable using these community resources. This might also include increasing the amount of enjoyable scenery and needed amenities (e.g., public restrooms, drinking fountains, trees providing shade and benches). It may be helpful to work with urban designers, city managers, the department of transportation and parks and recreation departments to address these issues specifically as they exist for older adults in your community.
  • Address interpersonal crime. There are a number of strategies that might be useful to consider when addressing crime, including working with the local police to increase neighborhood safety, creating a neighborhood watch or creating buddy systems.  Sometimes just having people in the neighborhood get to know each other through block parties or gatherings can help people feel safer and more comfortable being physically active.
  • Doctor recommendations. Older adults are more likely to be physically active when they are advised to do so by their health care providers (Schutzer, 2004; King, 2001).  Intervention strategies that incorporate encouragement and specific suggestions by healthcare providers along with health care setting-based education may help to increase physical activity levels (Schutzer, 2004; King, 2001).

printer-friendly Print this window