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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The determinants of late life exercise in women over age 70 Cousins, Sandra


Too many elderly women suffer rapid aging decline, frailty and hypokinetic disease simply because of inadequate levels of physical activity. While the biopsychosocial benefits of regular exercise are now well-known, explanations are lacking for the reluctance of aging Canadian females to take up, or keep up, healthful forms of leisure-time physical activity. The purpose of this study was to examine and explain the variability of participation in health-promoting form sof exercise in elderly women. Several health behavior theories and personal attributes have shown promise in explaining exercise behavior, and thus, a second purpose of the study was to test the utility of a composite theoretical model. The composite model included ten personal and situational attributes as well as five cognitive beliefs about physical activity adapted from Social Cognitive Theory and a belief about personal control over one's health from Health Locus of Control Theory. A city-wide sample of 327 Vancouver women aged 70 and 98 years filled out survey questionnaires providing information on the 16 model variables in addition to kilocalorie estimates of exercise in the past week. Multiple regression analysis was used to explain late life exercise in three stages: 1) regression on the ten personal and situational attributes; 2) regression on the six cognitive beliefs; and 3) combined regression on all the significant predictors. From the life situational variables, health, childhood movement confidence, school location, and age were significant factors explaining 18% of the variability seen in current exercise level. From the cognitive variables, current self-efficacy to exercise and current social support to engage in physical activity were the only significant predictors (R2 = 22%). A full regression model was tested by including the four statistically important situational variables and the two cognitive variables from the previous analyses. The utility of the Composite Model was supported in that both situational variables and self-referent beliefs played significant and independent roles in explaining late life exercise (R2 = 26%). The main reasons that older women were physically active were: 1) they perceived high levels of social support to exercise (b = .239, p< .01); 2) they felt efficacious for fitness-types of activities (b = .185, p< .01), 3) they had satisfactory health (b = .174, p < .01), and 4) they were educated in foreign countries (b = -.125, p < .01). Health locus of control offered some explanation but was not able to demonstrate significance alongside other cognitive beliefs (b = -.106, p < .06). Education, socioeconomic status, work role, family size, and marital status were not able to explain late life exercise. This study found that health difficulties do indeed interfere with women’s activity patterns. However, women are also influenced by perceptions of declining social support, lower levels of movement confidence, and chronological age, to reduce their physical activity. Thus, regardless of their health situation, the explanation of exercise involvement in older women rests to a large degree on the amount of social encouragement they perceive from family, friends and physicians, their self-efficacy for fitness activity, as well as perceptions of age-appropriate behavior. Older women who were educated as children outside of Canada, Britain and the U.S. appear to be culturally advantaged for late life physical activity participation. Moreover, childhood movement confidence stands as a significant predictor among the situational variables. These findings suggest that participation in physical activity, and positive beliefs about exercise in late oo, are rooted in competencies and experiences acquired in childhood. Perceptions of inadequate encouragement appear to be limiting females, from childhood on, to develop and sustain confidence in their physical abilities that would promote a more active lifestyle into their oldest life stage.

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