Physical activity is an important contributor to long-term well-being, one that tends to decrease as we age. An Ageing Research Reviews article summarizes the last two decades’ findings on promoting physical activity in adults age 80 and older with the purpose of identifying motivating factors and barriers for physical activity in this population. The authors present a rigorous analysis of the qualitative and quantitative research done in this area, breaking down the methodology, reliability, and theory used in each study. Ultimately, the authors find that there is a relative shortage of information about physical activity among people 80 and older but that the literature does present some useful information for the promotion of physical activity.
The authors excluded studies published before 1990 to avoid confounding factors such as the generation or cohort effect. Also excluded were studies that did not provide information about the mean age and that did not include a significant proportion of subjects older than 79. Further, they excluded studies that dealt with patients undergoing palliative care and with dementia. Ultimately, there were 44 studies that matched their criteria. The authors coded these based on design and the existence of barriers and motivators of three different types: intrapersonal factors (states within the individual, such as pain or psychological states like fear), interpersonal factors (such as social support or the perspective of doctors), and community level or environmental factors (for example, the cost of exercise classes, weather, or neighborhood conditions).
The authors found that the overall quality of the research was good but offered some fairly specific criticisms of many of the studies. They argue that it’s not currently possible for researchers to clearly identify motivators and barriers specific to the oldest old, particularly among individuals experiencing frailty or who are institutionalized. It appears that barriers and motivators are quite similar between older adults and younger individuals, with a few exceptions. For example, fear is a more prominent barrier among those 80 and older, whether fear or injury of fear of going outside in certain weather conditions or times of day. Social support also appears to work differently as a motivator among the older old, as social networks are often smaller in this population while, at the same time, social interaction is a particularly effective motivator for this cohort. This review is a useful summary of the research on the promotion of physical activity among individuals 80 and older and points to important directions for research and intervention.