Exercise and other forms of physical activity have been associated with both physical and psychosocial benefits to older adults. Physical activity is defined as bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure and produces health benefits (Caspersen, Powell, & Christenson, 1985). Exercise, which is a subcategory of physical activity, is defined as planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement performed to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness. These definitions of physical activity and exercise are used at the research and policy levels. There is convincing evidence that exercise is important to the overall health and well-being of older adults. The benefits of exercise are varied and include:
* Improved health and functional status.
* Reduction in symptoms of many chronic medical problems such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and degenerative joint disease.
* Improved quality of life.
* Overall sense of well-being.
The articles in this issue of the Journal of Gerontological Nursing support the many benefits older adults experience when they exercise regularly.
Despité the known benefits of exercise and physical activity, only 30% of older adults report regular exercise (Elward & Larson, 1992). Moreover, 50% of the older adults who are not physically active have no intention of starting a regular exercise program to increase their activity (Dishman, 1994). With the arrival of the new millennium it is estimated one of five people in the United States will be older than age 65 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1999). Unfortunately a significant number of these individuals, particularly those older than age 85, will have chronic illnesses and functional impairments. Helping older adults initiate and adhere to a regular exercise program has important health implications because exercise can prevent disease and disability and help older adults maintain and improve function and overall quality of life.
The articles in this issue focused on exercise in older adults provide a wealth of information on the attitudes toward exercise for particular groups of older adults; the exercise behavior and specific benefits of exercise to older adults in a variety of settings; and ways in which to motivate older adults to exercise. The particular barriers to exercise in older adults (e.g., fear of death or harm as a result of exercising) are identified in several of these articles. Several theoretical frameworks (e.g., the theory of self-efficacy, the Transtheoretical Model) are presented as ways in which to help older adults initiate and adhere to a regular exercise program.
Nurses working with older adults are in a unique position to use the information provided in these articles to build on what is already known about the benefits of exercise in older adults and put this into practice. Nurses are challenged to continue to explore ways to motivate all older adults to initiate and adhere to a regular exercise program, and to determine how much exercise or activity is needed to result in physical or psychological benefits. In so doing nurses working with older adults can help decrease morbidity and mortality in late life, improve quality of life, and decrease health care costs.
- Caspersen, C, Powell, K., & Christenson, G. (1985). Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: Definitions and distinctions for health-related research. Public Health Report, 100, 126-130.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1999). Health, United States, 1999 with health and aging chartbook [On-line]. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/ products/pubs/pubd/hus/hus.htm
- Dishman, R. (1994). Motivating older adults to exercise. Southern Medical Journal, 87, S79-S82.
- Elward, K., & Larson, E. (1992). Benefits of exercise of older adults. Clinics of Geriatric Medicine, 8, 35-50.