Mobility, Disability and Attitudes Toward Exercise
The general benefits of physical activity and exercise are well established. Likewise, it has been recognized that physically active older adults are more likely to live long lives without disability. Can exercise be used as therapy for older adults to prevent disability?
What Problem Was Studied?
Low-income elderly individuals with chronic conditions are at particularly high risk of becoming disabled because they are known to have a high prevalence of inactivity and they encounter various barriers to physical activity. To understand the population and to ultimately create therapeutic exercise programs for these underserved populations, a research team from various institutions in Boston undertook a study of residents in six inner-city housing units for low-income seniors.
What Was Done in the Study?
Members of the research team conducted in-home interviews of 94 residents of the housing facilities. They asked about their chronic conditions, physical activity level, ability to function around the house, health beliefs, exercise self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to perform certain types of exercise, such as gentle strengthening and flexibility, moderate aerobic activity) and their readiness to or interest in exercise.
What Were the Study Results?
The residents with the lowest levels of physical performance (walking speed, standing balance, time to rise from chair) were least likely to be physically active, had lowest levels of exercise self-efficacy and lowest values for readiness for exercise. Similarly, people with limitations in activities of daily living (such as bathing, dressing, toileting, housework, preparing meals, etc.) generally had less exercise self-efficacy and less readiness for exercise.
Despite the finding that those with low physical ability also had low exercise self-efficacy, more than 70 percent of all participants expressed interest in participating in an exercise class or home-based exercise program. No significant differences were noted across performance or ability groups – meaning that the most physically capable and the least physically capable seniors were equally interested in participating in exercise.
What Does This Mean for Older Americans?
This study showed health care professionals that older individuals with mobility limitations and daily living disabilities lack the self-confidence to engage in a therapeutic exercise program. So, any program that is developed to improve function among at-risk elders should include interventions to promote self-confidence and enhance readiness to exercise. The authors conclude, “Given that therapeutic exercise remains a vital means of health promotion for older adults, the importance of addressing issues that may limit exercise participation cannot be overemphasized.”
Bean JF, Bailey A, Kiely DK, Leveille SG. Do attitudes toward exercise vary with differences in mobility and disability status? – a study among low-income seniors. Disabil Rehabil 2007;29:1215-20.
Dr. Suzanne G. Leveille, one of the investigators in this study, also has an Arthritis Foundation grant to study pain-related disability in older adults.