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Stereotypes of Aging Women and Exercise: A Historical Perspective

Patricia A. Vertinsky

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.

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The Effect of Changing Attitudes Toward Sexual Morality upon the Promotion of Physical Education for Women in Nineteenth Century America

Patricia A. Vertinsky

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Recapturing the Physical Activity Experiences of the Old: A Study of Three Women

Sandra O'Brien Cousins and Patricia A. Vertinsky

Few studies have tried to describe in detail the actual lifetime exercise experiences of very old women. In this paper, in-depth, guided life-course interviews with three women born in or before 1900 are used to shed light upon the social forces affecting the physical activities of young girls before the turn of the century. The late-life exercise patterns of these very old women appear to be rooted in very different ways to their past. However, the information gleaned from the interviews supports the early activation hypothesis that young girls at the turn of the century who were afforded opportunities and social support to develop physical skill in sport-type activities, or were physically challenged in domestic or farm labor, still appreciate and take advantage of the health-promoting aspects of exercise over 80 years later.