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Research reveals three common reasons why older people aren’t active enough

Southampton researchers have explored factors that influence older people’s physical activity.

They worked with researchers at the University of Edinburgh to increase understanding of why older people tend to be less active. This could lead to improved interventions for healthy ageing.

The analysis revealed the importance of understanding older people’s capability, opportunity and motivation to be active.

Southampton’s Dr Stephen Lim was part of the study team.

The results have been published in the journal Age and Ageing.

Promoting physical activity

Staying active as you age has important health benefits. This includes a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Physical activity can also improve wellbeing, reduce loneliness and support quality of life.

Yet adults over the age of 65 spend an average of 10 hours each day sitting or lying down. This makes them the most inactive age group.

The researchers analysed data from 25 studies that involved older people living in the community. They looked at their capability, opportunity and motivation to engage with physical activity.

Results show all three are needed to help make physical activity part of older people’s lives.

Factors influencing older people

The team found that older people’s perception about their capability is influenced by the feeling of reduced strength and increased tiredness. They may also be less likely to do physical activity if they fear injury or falling.

Opportunities for social interaction during physical activity was also shown to be important.

The analyses suggested that motivation stems from the creation of habits, feelings of satisfaction and the prospect of health improvements. However, negative sensations such as pain can make older adults feel less motivated.

The new findings could inform the direction of future intervention strategies.

Dr Lim is a Consultant Geriatrician at University Hospital Southampton and a Principal Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Southampton. He is part of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Wessex. He said:

“Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health in older age. But our activity levels often decline as we age.

“This study shows there are a wide range of factors that influence older people’s physical activity levels. Recognising these is key to helping them stay active and to lead healthier lives.”


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