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Regular Exercise Helps Seniors Ward Off Disability

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm 1 Comment

This is research simply confirming what is becoming common knowledge, but in this study, regular-weight seniors and overweight seniors were rated on their level of physical activity - “Active” (at least 60 minutes per week) or “Inactive” (under 60 minutes per week). The study found that the “Active” groups subsequently experienced fewer physical disabilities than their inactive counterparts, regardless of weight (though the normal weight “Active” group experienced the lowest overall number of disabilities). From the article:

The normal-weight physically active seniors reported an average of 303 minutes of exercise per week, compared with an average of 16 minutes for normal-weight inactive seniors. On the other hand, overweight seniors who were physically active reported an average of 251 minutes per week, compared with 12 minutes for the overweight inactive seniors.

After 13 years, the overweight active seniors (average disability score 0.14) had significantly less disability than the overweight inactive (average disability score 0.19) and normal-weight inactive seniors (average disability score 0.22) seniors.

The researchers concluded that being physically active, regardless of body weight, helped lessen disability. Bruce said that public health efforts that promote physically active lifestyles among seniors may be more feasible than those that emphasize body weight to remain healthy.

The article did touch on a problem of getting people to be more active. Essentially, the long-term potential threat of poor health, disability, etc. does not always translate into action on the part of the client. This is nothing new - how many people have been told over and over again to give up smoking, to no avail? I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed here:

Brian Martinson, Ph.D., senior investigator at HealthPartners Research Foundation in Minneapolis, agreed that "it's better to be active than inactive," but said it's often difficult for physicians without specific training to motivate patients to think of the long-term health benefits of exercise and activity.

Physicians should focus some discussions on the health benefits of physical activity because they have the most influence over their patients' behavior," he said. "However, I'm not sure how motivating the health benefits are to people. Most people, unfortunately, exercise because they want to look good in a dress or suit or want to look good for a high school reunion. The aim of decreasing disability long-term may not be enough of a motivator."

Now, I don’t see a problem with people initiating the process of exercise for less noble reasons, such as looking god in a bathing suit. The trick is twofold: getting people to start, then getting people to maintain. Again, this is where the convergence of psychology and medicine will continue to make its impact. While physicians are very good at what they do, the concepts of long-term motivation, facilitating behavior change, addressing relapses, etc. fall squarely into the areas of the psychologist. Mental health professionals need to remain engaged in the process of determining how best to implement all of this important knowledge in a way that positively impacts the lives of others.

Comments (1)
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To me, the best motivation for exercise is seeing the lifechanging results that it is having on people. For example, how can you listen to this lady's testimony about how exercising on the GlideCycle changed her life and not be motivated?
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