Older Adults' Concern for Personal Health Linked to Walking Difficulty

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Newly released research in the March, 2009 issue of Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport demonstrates that older adults with a high degree of health worry engaged in less physical activity, and older adults who participated in less physical activity were more likely to report walking difficulty at a 6-year follow-up.

Newly released research in the March, 2009 issue of Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport demonstrates that older adults with a high degree of health worry engaged in less physical activity, and older adults who participated in less physical activity were more likely to report walking difficulty at a 6-year follow-up.

Mobility, which declines with aging, has been identified as one of the 10 hot topics in aging research, as walking difficulty reduces quality of life. Most studies have emphasized the behavioral or physiological mechanisms that lead to walking difficulty among older adults. Not until recently have researchers started to look at possible psychological effects.

Health worry has been suggested to have an interesting mix of effects on health behaviors and outcomes. Some studies have suggested health worry may be considered a protective mechanism, which motivates people to engage in health behaviors such as regular physical activity. However, this study showed the opposite relationship. In a representative sample of older adults in the United States, people with a high degree of health worry engaged in less physical activity. Health worry, physical inactivity, and walking difficulty may actually combine to have a negative effect on each other. Therefore, to avoid having walking difficulty late in life, it is deemed important to resolve health worry issues and maintain physical activity.

Health professionals often use warnings of diseases and premature death to promote physical activity. The authors suggest that health-related information should include appropriate self-regulation and coping strategies for health worry. Instead of using health threat as a motivator, evidence-based programs for behavior change should be implemented. For instance, studies have shown that matching various behavioral change strategies with participants' current readiness for change is effective. In addition, implementing screening tools, such as the revised Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire prior to initiating a physical activity program, should be considered for use more widely among older adults. These strategies would ease concerns about the associated risks of participating in physical activity, and as a result older adults could benefit from increased physical activity participation.

The Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (RQES) is the official journal of the Research Consortium of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). The most enduring research journal in the field of Kinesiology, RQES is a highly respected professional journal offering the latest research in the art and science of human movement studies.

AAHPERD is a non-profit professional membership organization comprised of five national associations, six district associations and a research consortium, serving more than 21,000 members in professions related to achieving a healthy lifestyle including health education and promotion, physical education, physical activity, sport and dance. For more information, visit: http://www.aahperd.org.

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Gayle Claman
AAHPERD
703-476-3400 ext. 415
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