Exercise for elders: It's never too late

Older Americans need more motivation to exercise regularly, say a series of studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Already, 98 percent of Americans over 50 say that "getting exercise is important to staying healthy," according to an AARP survey. But just knowing what's good for them isn't enough.

"Messages must move beyond conveying basic health benefits to focus on encouraging and inspiring audience members to get moving, while being careful not to alienate or turn them off," say Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Texas A&M University System School of Rural Public Health and colleagues.

Ignoring clichs about older people and exercise might help, the researchers note. Being old does not mean life is over, Ory says, adding that elderly people receive as much benefit from exercising or any healthy behavior as younger people do. Stereotypes of old age as a time of poor health is a simplistic generalization, she adds, not an accurate description of the status of individuals.

"The majority of older people are able to perform functions necessary for normal living and to manage independently until very advanced ages," she says. "It is never too late to gain benefits from increasing physical activity."

Social and behavioral factors -- like diet and exercise -- play the most important role in determining longevity and quality of life among the elderly. Genetics factors contribute only 25 percent to human longevity, despite familiar injunctions to "choose your parents wisely."

But older people won't be motivated by stern lectures about "getting off the couch" or images of exercise as sweaty, physical labor, Ory says. In fact, even the word "exercise" should be replaced with something less intimidating like "physical activity."

"While audiences need motivation and encouragement to get moving, they are also hungry for specific directions and guidance," she says. Instead of vaguely suggesting a bri

Contact: Brigid Sanner
Center for the Advancement of Health

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