Physical activity and high quality of life go together in older women

November 06, 2001

The more physically active a woman over 60 is, the higher the overall quality of her life, a new study reveals. This appears to be true whether she lives independently or in a facility where she gets help with everyday chores, such as cooking and cleaning.

However, an older woman who lives independently is more likely to be physically active and enjoy a higher quality of life -- including better physical health.

These and other new findings appear in the November issue of Women's Health Issues.

"Numerous scientific studies have indicated the important health benefits of physical activity for healthy and even frail older adults," according to author Kelli F. Koltyn, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, "...and physical activity can also be effective in reducing or preventing functional declines associated with aging." Yet, until now, less attention has been paid to how activity level might affect not just physical health, but overall quality of life - a measure that takes physical, emotional, social and environmental factors into account.

Koltyn examined the link between physical activity and quality of life in 60 women over the age of 60. Approximately 70 percent of the study participants lived independently, while the remaining 30 percent lived in assisted-care facilities.

Their responses revealed that the women living in assisted care burned fewer calories each day being physically active, spent less time engaged in physical activity and tended to avoid climbing stairs and walking - despite the fact that they appeared just as capable as the independent women of performing simple everyday tasks.

At the same time, the women in assisted care gave lower ratings to their overall quality of life, physical health, social relationships and living environment.

Koltyn also found that, regardless of where a woman lived, she was more likely to give her overall quality of life and physical health high ratings if she was more physically active.

Prior to this study, Koltyn notes, there was ample evidence that the vast majority of older women "have physical activity levels that are lower than recommended in public health standards" and that, "in the long term, older adults ... hurt their health more by not exercising" than by exercising. Now, she observes, there is another motivation to find safe and effective ways to encourage older adults to become physically active: helping them see their lives in a more positive light.

In addition, Koltyn's findings reveal which benefits might help "sell" a physical activity program to an older woman. The chance to improve social interaction and enhance well-being appealed to study participants who did not exercise regularly, regardless of where they lived. The possibility of increased fitness also attracted those who lived independently, while the possibility of improved concentration held extra appeal for those living in assisted-care facilities.
The study was supported by a year 2000 Jacobs Institute of Women's Health and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Scholar in Women's Health Care Grant.

Women's Health Issues (WHI) is the official publication of The Jacobs Institute of Women's Health and the only journal devoted to women's health issues at the medical/social interface. It is a journal for health professionals, social scientists, policy makers and others concerned with the complex and diverse facets of health care delivery to women. WHI publishes peer-reviewed articles as well as position papers and reports from conferences and workshops sponsored by The Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. For information about the journal, contact Warren H. Pearse, M.D., at (202) 863-2454.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, (202) 387-2829.

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