There is strong evidence that older adults greatly benefit from regular physical activity. Yet, older age is consistently associated with lower levels of aerobic physical activity and strength training and higher levels of sedentary behavior, underscoring the need to better understand physical activity behavior in this population. Reviews of interventions to increase physical activity have overall yielded promising results. Interventions based on behavior theory appear to be more effective than non-theory-based interventions, yet strategies from these theories are underutilized in both research and practice. This paper discusses the importance of behavioral interventions, cites findings from the Active for Life initiative to illustrate several key concepts, and provides recommendations to address significant gaps in the literature, including the use of theory, mediation analyses, physical activity maintenance, diversity of participants, and dissemination and translational research.
Karl M. Newell and Steven Morrison
This paper presents a framework for an evolving dynamical landscape of movement forms and their stability over the lifespan. It is proposed that the complexity and dimensionality of movement forms can expand and contract on a number of growth/decay time scales of change including those of adaptation, development, and learning. The expansion and contraction is reflected in: (1) the range of potential movement forms of the individual in developmental time; and (2) the dimensionality and complexity of any single movement form at a moment of observation given the confluence of individual, environmental, and task constraints. It is postulated that practice, exercise, and fatigue also coalesce to change the time scales of complexity and dimension of movement forms.
Jennifer J. Heisz and Ana Kovacevic
Age-related changes in the brain can compromise cognitive function. However, in some cases, the brain is able to functionally reorganize to compensate for some of this loss. The present paper reviews the benefits of exercise on executive functions in older adults and discusses a potential mechanism through which exercise may change the way the brain processes information for better cognitive outcomes. Specifically, older adults who are more physically active demonstrate a shift toward local neural processing that is associated with better executive functions. We discuss the use of neural complexity as a sensitive measure of the neural network plasticity that is enhanced through exercise. We conclude by highlighting the future work needed to improve exercise prescriptions that help older adults maintain their cognitive and physical functions for longer into their lifespan.
Thomas A. Stoffregen
It is widely assumed that healthy aging includes a decline in the stability of standing body sway. Certainly, the spatial magnitude of postural sway increases with age. However, the interpretation of this effect as a decline in the ability to stabilize posture rests, in part, on assumptions about the nature and definition of stability in stance. In this article, I review data on the control of standing posture in healthy older adults. I focus on a growing list of studies that demonstrate the retention, among healthy older adults, of the ability functionally to modulate postural sway in support of “suprapostural” activities. I address laboratory research, but also field studies carried out in a setting that dramatically challenges the control of stance: life on ships at sea. I argue that it may be possible, and certainly will be useful, to address directly the functional control of stance in older adults.
Debra J. Rose
Despite the significant increase in years that an individual can now expect to live in the 21st century, there is growing evidence that the price for greater longevity may be worsening health due to the higher prevalence of nonfatal but disabling conditions. This sobering news suggests the need for expanded scientific inquiry directed at understanding the multilevel factors that promote or prevent physical activity (PA) participation and the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviors and the types of intervention strategies that will be most effective in positively changing behavior at different life stages. Fruitful areas of future scientific inquiry include exploring other types and intensities of PA aimed at increasing PA participation while reducing sedentary behavior, better understanding the role of the physical and social environment in promoting PA participation, and designing and evaluating multilevel PA interventions that are better tailored to the activity preferences, goals, and expectations of a diverse older adult population, and flexibly delivered in real-world settings. Finally, conducting research aimed at better differentiating normal age-associated changes from those that are disease-related will be fundamental to reversing the negative stereotypes that currently shape the public’s view of the aging process.
Nicholas Stergiou, Jenny A. Kent, and Denise McGrath
An optimal level of variability enables us to interact adaptively and safely to a continuously changing environment, where often our movements must be adjusted in a matter of milliseconds. A large body of research exists that demonstrates natural variability in healthy gait (along with variability in other, healthy biological signals such as heart rate) and a loss of this variability in aging and injury, as well as in a variety of neurodegenerative and physiological disorders. We submit that this field of research is now in pressing need of an innovative “next step” that goes beyond the many descriptive studies that characterize levels of variability in various patient populations. We need to devise novel therapies that will harness the existing knowledge on biological variability and create new possibilities for those in the grip of disease. We also propose that the nature of the specific physiological limitation present in the neuromuscular apparatus may be less important in the physiological complexity framework than the control mechanisms adopted by the older individual in the coordination of the available degrees of freedom. The theoretical underpinnings of this framework suggest that interventions designed to restore healthy system dynamics may optimize functional improvements in older adults. We submit that interventions based on the restoration of optimal variability and movement complexity could potentially be applied across a range of diseases or dysfunctions as it addresses the adaptability and coordination of available degrees of freedom, regardless of the internal constraints of the individual.
Maureen M. Smith
As women age, society assigns stereotypes that suggest that older women are no longer capable of being competent athletes. In considering the experiences of older women in sport from a sociological perspective, this article provides a short summary of works examining older women in masters sport settings, as well as three brief case studies of older women engaged in sport and movement. As American women age, more of them will have experienced organized high school sport (after the passage of Title IX), suggesting that the experiences of older women in sport will take on new dimensions and meanings worthy of exploration.
Catrine Tudor-Locke and Stephanie Broyles
The focus of a physically active lifestyle for older adults is to preserve functional mobility and delay losses associated with decrepitude in later years. Since ambulation is of utmost importance to older adults’ mobility, the purpose of this nonexhaustive review is to consider older adults’ walking behaviors objectively captured as steps/day and the factors that shape them. Summarized evidence currently indicates that apparently healthy older adults accumulate between 2,000–9,000 steps/day and that older adults living with disabilities and/or chronic conditions average approximately 1,200–8,800 steps/day. The scientific body of objectively monitored knowledge focused on potential individual, program, and contextual factors that shape older adults’ walking behaviors expressed as steps/day (i.e., their ability to and practice of getting “out and about”) is infantile at this time. We provide a simple research agenda to spark scholarly efforts to address research gaps and opportunities in the collective knowledge base.
Wendy J. Brown and Toby Pavey
The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) commenced in Australia in 1996 when researchers recruited approximately 40,000 women in three birth cohorts: 1973–1978, 1946–1951, and 1921–1926. Since then participants have completed surveys on a wide range of health issues, at approximately three-year intervals. This overview describes changes in physical activity (PA) over time in the mid-age and older ALSWH cohorts, and summarizes the findings of studies published to date on the determinants of PA, and its associated health outcomes in Australian women. The ALSWH data show a significant increase in PA during mid-age, and a rapid decline in activity levels when women are in their 80s. The study has demonstrated the importance of life stages and key life events as determinants of activity, the additional benefits of vigorous activity for mid-age women, and the health benefits of ‘only walking’ for older women. ALSWH researchers have also drawn attention to the benefits of activity in terms of a wide range of physical and mental health outcomes, as well as overall vitality and well-being. The data indicate that maintaining a high level of PA throughout mid and older age will not only reduce the risk of premature death, but also significantly extend the number of years of healthy life.
Katie E. Cherry, Jennifer Silva Brown, Sangkyu Kim, and S. Michal Jazwinski
Social behaviors are associated with health outcomes in later life. The authors examined relationships among social and physical activities and health in a lifespan sample of adults (N = 771) drawn from the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study (LHAS). Four age groups were compared: younger (21–44 years), middle-aged (45–64 years), older (65–84 years), and oldest-old adults (85–101 years). Linear regression analyses indicated that physical activity, hours spent outside of the house, and social support were significantly associated with selfreported health, after controlling for sociodemographic factors. Number of clubs was significantly associated with objective health status, after controlling for sociodemographic factors. These data indicate that social and physical activities remain important determinants of self-perceived health into very late adulthood. Implications of these data for current views on successful aging are discussed.