Relationships encourage older adults to maintain physical activity, key at this time

The study showed that participants with a high level of education and a strong relationship with a life partner or extensive contact with a network of close friends were significantly more likely to engage in regular physical activity

Living as a couple or talking regularly with friends and family encourages older adults to take regular physical exercise, a principle that should not be overlooked during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Notwithstanding the social distancing measures imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vitally important to maintain romantic relationships and ties with friends and family. A new American research study has highlighted the benefits of social interaction, and in particular the fact that it can help motivate senior citizens to take regular exercise. 

The study, which has been published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, involved 1,193 adults aged between 65 and 74 living in Albania, Brazil and Colombia. The researchers attempted to evaluate the impact of other aspects of these senior citizens' lives on their levels of physical activity, and in particular with regard to the 150 minutes of physical activity per week recommended by the World Health Organization. 

"In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical not to forget the importance of social relationships and maintaining physical activity to reduce chronic disease and premature death. Older adults who experience social isolation are at greater risk of depression, cognitive decline and other poor health outcomes," points out Catherine Pirkle, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of public health at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.

The study showed that participants with a high level of education and a strong relationship with a life partner or extensive contact with a network of close friends were significantly more likely to engage in regular physical activity. Research responses also showed that people with depression were less likely to engage in physical exercise.  

"These results are important because they reinforce that relationships are key to influencing positive health behaviors, including physical activity. Our findings echo other studies that have demonstrated the importance of connectivity in the aging process across different cultures. We hope this study can be used to inform health approaches and interventions targeting older adults to keep them healthy in this pandemic and beyond," concludes Professor Prikle.