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Older people may be more active when programmes motivate, empower and are social

Southampton researchers have found that a variety of psychological and social factors appear to influence older people’s physical activity.

We all know exercise is good for our health, but it can be hard to do. In older age being active helps people stay fit, energetic, and independent. Yet adults over the age of 65 spend an average of 10 hours each day sitting or lying down, making them the most inactive age group.

New research, led by Dr Wendy Lawrence, Dr Jean Zhang and Dr Ilse Bloom from the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, has identified which factors have the strongest influence on older people to get them exercising more.

Exploring what influences older people

In 2014, the researchers conducted a series of focus groups with 92 people in Hertfordshire aged between 74 and 83 years. They recorded and transcribed the discussions, and later analysed them to pick out key themes.

Their results, published in PLOS ONE, show six key themes that influence older people’s physical activity. These were past life experiences, significant life events, getting older, physical activity environment, psychological/personal factors and social capital.

The researchers suggest that initiatives to promote physical activity in older people which build a person’s confidence in their own ability, motivate them and encourage socialising are most likely to succeed.

Informing future exercise programmes

These findings will help to inform the design of more successful future physical activity programmes aimed at older people. This could help more people to get fit and stay healthy in later life.

The researchers also suggest that initiatives are more likely to be successful if the researchers include older people in the design process.

Dr Wendy Lawrence, Associate Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Southampton, said: “It’s so important to stay active in later life to maintain health, yet often people do less and less exercise as they get older.

“This study identifies some of the factors that appear to be most influential for this age group, allowing programmes to be designed that support people to get up and moving.”


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