Strong relationships boost physical activity in older adults
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
New York, May 15 2020 - Strong relationships can help adults stay active in older age, say researchers, suggesting that relationships are key to influencing positive health behaviours and should not be forgotten during the social distancing times. The results, published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, show that participants with higher educational attainment, a strong relationship with a life partner or a network of close friends were significantly more likely to engage in regular physical activity. "We wanted to better understand how adults' levels of physical activity are affected by other aspects of their lives," said lead author Chevelle Davis from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the US. In the study, the authors examined data on 1,193 adults ages 65-74 in Albania, Brazil and Colombia. The researchers sought to understand how individual, interpersonal, organisational and community factors influenced whether the older adults met physical activity guidelines, defined as 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week through walking. "Older adults who experience social isolation are at greater risk of depression, cognitive decline and other poor health outcomes," said study co-author Catherine Pirkle. "We must find innovative ways to maintain connectedness and physical activity, while also following public health guidelines," Pirkle added. The findings showed that female participants, as well as all participants with depression, were less likely to engage in regular physical activity. Mental health challenges are likely to increase in this time, but walking, which is generally safe and acceptable to most older adults, has been shown to protect against depression symptoms. Walking and other forms of physical activity are allowed in parks at this time. "These results are important because they reinforce that relationships are key to influencing positive health behaviours, including physical activity," said Pirkle. "Our findings echo other studies that have demonstrated the importance of connectivity in the ageing process across different cultures," Pirkle added. The researchers hope this study can be used to inform health approaches and interventions targeting older adults to keep them healthy in this pandemic and beyond.