Despite growing indications of increased participation in healthful physical activity among the elderly, aging women tend to participate in exercise and sport to a lesser extent than their male peers. This paper suggests that strongly held beliefs about the potential risks of vigorous exercise deter many elderly women from being physically active. It then examines the gendered nature of myths and stereotypes concerning aging and physical activity and explores those social and cultural factors that have historically persuaded aging women to practice "being" old and inactive before "becoming" old. The purpose is to elaborate upon studies in the history of aging which indicate that popular perceptions rather than reality shaped social expectations, professional prescriptions, and public policy. These studies suggest how the creation of negative stereotypes around the aging female paved the way for an unbalanced version of the realities of female old age, at times delimiting aspirations and constraining opportunities for vigorous and healthful physical activity.
Patricia A. Vertinsky is with the School of Human Kinetics, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z1.