Disclosures: Lane-Cordova received a career Development Award from the AHA and grant funding from the NIH/NIGMS. The other authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
December 01, 2021
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AHA: Strategies to address loss of physical activity during major life events, transitions

Disclosures: Lane-Cordova received a career Development Award from the AHA and grant funding from the NIH/NIGMS. The other authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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Life events and major transitions may negatively affect routine physical activity, across the spectrum of age in the U.S., according to a scientific statement published in Circulation.

Abbi D. Lane-Cordova

“A group of American Heart Association physical activity committee members met to discuss gaps in the physical activity literature. We agreed that evidence suggested life events and transitions influenced physical activity and maybe sedentary behavior. The existing studies and our own personal experiences were discussed,” writing group chair Abbi D. Lane-Cordova, PhD, FAHA, assistant professor in exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health at University of South Carolina, told Healio. “We wanted people, especially health care providers, to be aware that they should talk to people experiencing life events about activity behavior. We wanted to provide some guidance regarding how to start those conversations and provide resources. Then the pandemic hit, and the topic of supporting healthy levels of activity behaviors during major life events seemed even more important.”

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The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published in JAMA outlined specific appropriate levels of physical activity based on an individual’s age. However, significant life events or periods of adjustment can be experienced by a person at any age and may negatively impact physical activity and, by extension, heart health, according to the authors.

To develop a better understanding of these fluctuations, Lane-Cordova and colleagues, on behalf of the Committee on Physical Activity of the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health, released a new scientific statement that highlights specific life events and how they might impact an individual’s level of routine physical activity.

Events that impact physical activity

Only 20% of adolescents and 24% of adults achieve guideline-recommended levels of physical activity, according to the authors.

The scientific statement highlights the following life experiences as possibly associated with decreased physical activity:

  • entry to elementary school;
  • entry to middle school or high school;
  • entry to college or university;
  • entry to the labor market;
  • marriage or civil union;
  • pregnancy;
  • parenting;
  • retirement; and
  • entry to a long-term care facility.

In contrast, the following life events or transitions were found to have null or inconsistent evidence linking them to decreased physical activity:

  • trauma event;
  • divorce;
  • remarriage after divorce or widowhood;
  • loss of job;
  • major illness;
  • change of housing or homelessness;
  • menopause; and
  • death of spouse or partner.

According to the statement, no studies or reviews exist evaluating the association between changes in physical activity and entry into child care, summer break for schoolchildren, caregiving and major societal events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommendations for health care professionals

To help mitigate loss of physical activity during major life events and transitions, the committee suggested that health care professionals ask simple questions during routine health visits to ascertain changes in routine activity.

The statement also suggested that commercially available wearable technologies to monitor physical activity may help and metrics such as adding 1,000 steps per day could improve heart health.

A focus on understanding and patient encouragement may also help to improve routine physical activity during major life events and transitions. According to the statement, primary care physicians may lack the time and resources needed to provide adequate counseling and follow-up support; therefore, enlisting the help of medical assistants, nurses and health and/or lifestyle coaches may help overcome these barriers.

“Clinicians can ask patients about their activity behaviors and counsel them to maintain or improve behaviors during these times,” Lane-Cordova told Healio. “Clinicians can encourage monitoring of activity behaviors, utilize motivational interviewing and health coaches or medical assistants to provide activity counseling, and direct patients toward reputable information to help them meet their goals.”

For more information:

Abbi D. Lane-Cordova, PhD, FAHA, can be reached at lanecord@mailbox.sc.edu.

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