Strong Relationships Can Promote Physical Activity in Older Adults

Older adults who have strong relationships, whether with a romantic partner or through friendships, are more likely to engage in regular physical activity, according to researchers at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

“These results are important because they reinforce that relationships are key to influencing positive health behaviors, including physical activity,” said Dr. Catherine Pirkle, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of public health.

The researchers say that during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is still crucial to remember the importance of social relationships and maintaining physical activity as a way to reduce chronic disease and premature death. They suggest finding innovative ways to stay socially connected and active while still following public health guidelines.

The findings, published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, show that both individual and interpersonal factors seem to have a strong influence on whether older adults meet physical activity guidelines. Specifically, participants with higher education levels, a strong relationship with a life partner or a network of close friends were much more likely to engage in regular physical activity.

On the other hand, being female and having depression were linked to less physical activity among the participants.

“We wanted to better understand how adults’ levels of physical activity are affected by other aspects of their lives,” said lead author Chevelle Davis, a current Ph.D. student in the Office of Public Health Studies under the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work. “Physical activity among older adults is largely understudied in middle-income countries.”

For the study, the authors looked at data of 1,193 adults ages 65-74 in Albania, Brazil and Colombia. The study sought to understand how individual, interpersonal, organizational and community factors influenced whether the older adults reached physical activity guidelines, defined as 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week through walking.

“In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical not to forget the importance of social relationships and maintaining physical activity to reduce chronic disease and premature death,” said Pirkle. “Older adults who experience social isolation are at greater risk of depression, cognitive decline and other poor health outcomes.

“We must find innovative ways to maintain connectedness and physical activity, while also following public health guidelines.”

Importantly, the research team found that female participants, as well as all those who were struggling 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.

“Our findings echo other studies that have demonstrated the importance of connectivity in the aging process across different cultures. We hope this study can be used to inform health approaches and interventions targeting older adults to keep them healthy in this pandemic and beyond,” said Pirkle.

According to the CDC, physical activity among older adults helps maintain the ability to live independently and reduces the risk of falling and fracturing bones. Physical activity also reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and improves mood and feelings of well-being.

Source: University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

Source: PsychCentral Strong Relationships Can Promote Physical Activity in Older Adults