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The benefits of Physical activity/Exercise

Useful insight

Physical activity is beneficial for prevention of a multitude of chronic conditions, including obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and depression. Lack of physical activity is estimated to cost the UK £7.4 billion a year, including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone!

Despite growing evidence for the astounding health benefits of physical activity, not everyone participates in (or enjoys) undertaking the recommended amount of physical activity (see info-graphic). In addition, there is a downward trend in physical activity levels throughout the life course, with older adults participating in nearly 35% less physical activity than young adults.

As part of my research I conducted exercise tests in older adults (>65 years old). Some frequently described reasons for not being able to complete the exercise test included: pain from arthritis, a fear of falling, a feeling of leg muscle fatigue and breathlessness.

I’d like to know:

Are these reasons also common in the wider population as reasons for not undertaking physical activity/exercise?

What other reasons are there for not participating in physical activity?


If you do undertake/enjoy exercise, what motivates you to overcome these barriers?

Can individuals suggest creative ways to encourage everyone to get involved with physical activity?

Info-graphics copied from GOV.UK:

edited on Oct 24, 2020 by Siana Jones
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Octavio Zamudio 11 months ago

Hi Siana! Great to read this starter conversation. I am currently working on the role of the built environment, particularly pedestrian infrastructure, as a modifying factor of our physical activity levels and long-term wellbeing. I am trying to study these two things separately, although I consider it to be a multifactorial causal relationship.

In a pilot experiment I conducted some months ago, I used fear of falling (FoF) as a a quick way to get a sense for this. I had 20 participants, 10 of whom where >65. Unsurprisingly, FoF increased with age, but something called my attention further was that FoF was higher among females than men, for both age groups. This highlights the possibility of a possible gender gap. These people were all relatively active, perhaps not practicing sports, but frequent walkers. I would venture to think that these results could be more accentuated within a group of more sedentary individuals.

Very looking forward to see more comments in the thread!

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Siana Jones 11 months ago

That's really interesting @Octavio Zamudio.

I wonder if fear of falling is related to muscle strength? We did an analysis recently showing muscle strength was more important for physical function in women compared to men.

I wonder if muscle strengthening exercises would be more beneficial in preventing loss of physical function (increase in falls) in older women to a greater extent than men?

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Octavio Zamudio 11 months ago

Hi Siana,

Unfortunately I did not collect EMG data, nor I performed any strength assessments. I only have kinematic and kinetic data. However, the latest reference I read mentions that Perturbation-Based Balance Training in combination with strength training showed decreased fall risk reduction of more than twice as much as strength exercise only. But no gender segmentation is mentioned.

It's very interesting what you mention about strength, I guess that if women tend to suffer more injuries, and also have higher FOF, training (strength, balance, or a combination) they could indeed benefit more. Very interesting thought, if there's a gender gap, we should pay further attention to this too.

I have been practicing balance training while manipulating awkward loads, and I have to say that it's fun and addictive. We could explore something like this.

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Miroslava Katsur 11 months ago

Hi Siana! I would like to contribute to this discussion. My personal impression about older people in my family is that they lost hope in that they can improve their health with exercises, or their joints/back hurt and immobility is less hurting, and there's no reward for exercising. Therefore, higher awareness about health benefits and some encouragement/reward system could work with them potentially. Moreover, if there was a sufficient and affordable support for joints/back designed for people with damaged by e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, they would maybe be more motivated to exercise. There's already some devices for people who do heavy lifting ("exoskeleton"), so I think it's possible to design support for legs/back for elderly which is easy to put on, use and reasonably priced.

Additionally, I found further information on this topic:
- Older people are self-concious about their looks, and may be reluctant to come to gyms full of youngsters.
- Not too many exercise programmes are developed for older people with different needs.
- Fear of failing at exercising and fear of falling
- Depression and anxiety
- Caring duties (e.g. grandchildren or even parents), everyday stuff (pharmacies, appointments, shopping - all can make them exhausted)
- Lack of knowledge of how to exercise (they would benefit from instructor who can show them how to do exercises and guide them)
- Cost
- Facilities (e.g. gym, swimming pool) is too far from them

Find more about this topic here:

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Miroslava Katsur 11 months ago

Status label added: Useful insight

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