Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Does Gender Influence Physical Activity and Psychosocial Factors in Older Exercisers? A Pilot Study

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Does Gender Influence Physical Activity and Psychosocial Factors in Older Exercisers? A Pilot Study

Article excerpt

How does gender influence physical and psychosocial characteristics in physically active older adults? Much of the previous research on physical function in older women focuses on either the frailty of older women or on physical function irrespective of gender. These studies leave unknown the specific influence of regular physical activity on older women.

Furthermore, few studies have examined the relationship between physical activity and psychosocial characteristics in older exercisers. We wanted to investigate whether differences exist between groups of older female and male adults who maintain a physically active lifestyle. Twenty-three female and 14 male physically active older adults performed physical function tests (i.e., chair stands, timed up-and-go, 6-minute walk) and filled out questionnaires related to psychosocial measures (i.e., social support, self-esteem, satisfaction with life). There were no differences in any physical function between the groups, and only one psychosocial measure (guidance) statistically differed (F (1, 31) = 4.14, p = .044). These results suggest that physically active women may not necessarily follow the trajectory towards frailty. More research needs to be done with a greater range of ages and physical activity levels.

As U.S. population ages, certain issues become more pressing on both an individual and a societal level. For example, older adults (over the age of 65 years of age) tend to have more health-related problems than younger adults, which results in an increase in health-related expenses (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics [FIFARS], 2010). These health-related expenses disproportionately affect women. Although females have a longer life expectancy, they also have a tendency to become more frail and have more health issues later in life (Salganicoff, Cubanski, Ranji, & Newman, 2009). Physical activity offers benefits for men and women alike. Exercise is associated with positive physical and psychological health (Blair et al., 1995; Eyler et al., 1997; Gregg et al., 2003; McAuley & Rudolph, 1995; Weuve et al., 2004) and can help deter or delay the occurrence of multiple physiological-disease processes that become more common with age.

Although physical activity leads to improved physiological and psychological health, the number of older adults (65 years of age and older) who regularly engage in physical activity remains low at 22 percent. Older women are at a lower participation rate (18%) compared to their male counterparts (27%; FIFARS, 2010). Furthermore, few older women seem to adhere to exercise programs (<50%), with a high percentage dropping out after six months (Dishman, 1982; Dishman & Sallis, 1994). Why do some women adhere while others do not? Research suggests that psychosocial factors may play a large role in older adults' adherence to physical activity or sport. In fact, social support, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and quality of life have been associated with exercise participation in older adults of both genders (Fisher, Li, Michael & Cleveland, 2004; McAuley et al., 2000; Oka, King, & Young, 1995; Rejeski & Mihalko, 2001).

Much of what is known about physical activity, aging, and women comes from literature investigating cohorts born before the baby boom generation (between 1910-1930). For many of these older adults, a gym membership was unheard of, and they exercised primarily to enhance their domestic chores (Vertinsky, 1994). Furthermore, most of these older women were not exposed to physical activity or exercise during their lifespan. Over the past century, the prevailing attitudes toward women's participation in physical activity have changed dramatically. At the turn of the 20th century, women were advised against vigorous exercise, with physicians positing that physical activity might damage female reproductive systems. Moderate physical activity and 'gentle games' were encouraged to promote enough strength to perform daily tasks such as domestic chores (Vertinsky, 1994). …

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