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Older Adults' Perceptions of Physical Activity within the Process of Aging

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Objectives: Given the aging population and protective effects of regular physical activity (PA) for disease prevention, it is important to increase low levels of PA among older adults in our communities. This study explored older adults' perceptions of PA, as experienced within the process of aging. PA was conceptualized as both structured exercise-type behaviors and unstructured lower-level (leisure) activities. Methods: We employed qualitative interview methods using maximum variation sampling to recruit 20 older adults from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and PA levels. Results: We found that active and inactive individuals differed in perceptions of age-related decline and strategies to adjust to aging. Perceptions of inactive older adults were constructed within the discourses of disappointment over not meeting standards imposed by stereotypes of an aging body, whereas active older adults engaged in a more agentic discourse, perceiving PA as a challenge that could be tackled by making flexible adjustments. Conclusions: These findings extend current knowledge by revealing some adaptive and maladaptive perspectives regarding PA in later life, and specific strategies to persevere with PA that may inform PA programs targeting older adults. A number of implications for health behavior and policy are discussed, including the importance of structured physical activities of at least moderate level and supporting older adults' autonomy regarding PA decision making through a combination of intervention components.
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Keywords: AGING; BEHAVIOR CHANGE; EXERCISE; OLDER ADULTS; PHYSICAL ACTIVITY; QUALITATIVE APPROACH

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Menzies Health Institute Queensland, School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: 01 January 2017

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  • Health Behavior and Policy Review is a rigorously peer-reviewed scholarly bi-monthly publication that seeks manuscripts on health behavior or policy topics that represent original research, including papers that examine the development, advocacy, implementation, or evaluation of policies around specific health issues. The Review especially welcomes papers that tie together health behavior and policy recommendations. Articles are available through subscription or can be ordered individually from the Health Behavior and Policy Review site.
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