Stretching/toning, aerobic exercise increase older adults' self-esteem

July 31, 2000

The study measured self-esteem changes in adults ages 60 to 75 years who took part in a supervised exercise program that involved either stretching/toning in a gym or brisk walking in an indoor shopping mall three times a week for six months. The participants, who had been sedentary before the program, were predominantly white, female, well-educated, overweight, and of low cardiovascular fitness.

"We found that participation in either a stretching/toning program or an aerobic exercise program can enhance self-esteem," said lead author Edward McAuley, PhD, of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "However, gains made can erode over time, so it is important to support older adults in continuing physical activities after formal programs end."

Before beginning the program, all participants underwent a physiological assessment and completed questionnaires measuring their initial self-esteem, physical self-perception, and self-efficacy. Six months after completion of the exercise program, 116 of the original 174 participants returned for a second physiological assessment, and 152 participants completed psychological questionnaires.

During the exercise programs, overall self-esteem increased in both the stretching/toning group and the aerobic walking group, although the stretching/toning group showed greater increases. Both groups showed increases in overall physical self-worth and self-esteem related specifically to body image, physical condition, and strength. The physical condition and strength aspects of self-esteem increased as exercise frequency increased.

The research also showed that six months after the exercise programs ended, self-esteem levels dropped somewhat in both groups but more so in the aerobic walking group. Seventy-five percent of the stretching/toning group and 51 percent of the walking group continued to exercise at the same levels as during the program. The researchers report their findings in the current issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

The researchers suggested that monthly newsletters or reminders, telephone calls, follow-up exercise prescriptions, and "buddy groups" may help older adults to continue exercising and, in turn, maintain their levels of self-esteem.

Supported by the National Institute on Aging, the study was the first to assess comprehensively the effects of exercise on self-esteem at multiple time points.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine is the official peer-reviewed publication of The Society of Behavioral Medicine. For information about the journal, contact Robert Kaplan, PhD, 619-534-6058.

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