Embracing a Positive Attitude in Aging: The Vital Role of Physical Activity

Investigating the Link Between Attitude and Aging Anxiety

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Embracing a Positive Attitude in Aging: The Vital Role of Physical Activity

3rd November 2023, Mumbai: Researchers have found that having a positive attitude towards physical activity is associated with less anxiety about aging. A good attitude towards physical activity may be associated with less anxiety about aging. Gender, age, marital status, and wealth, according to researchers who analysed findings from a multi-state study, influence perceptions on exercise and ageing, but reframing messaging about both can lead to more healthy behaviours.

Unpacking the Factors That Influence Aging Anxiety

“As this large demographic ages, it’s really important to support health promoting behaviors and have an approach that focuses on prevention – not just treatment – when it comes to chronic diseases. To do that, we need to know what their needs are and how best to address those needs,” says Sarah Francis, a healthy aging advocate and registered dietitian. She and her team at Iowa State University have been investigating aging anxiety, a comprehensive concept that encompasses various fears and concerns related to growing older.

The Impact of Aging Anxiety on Health Outcomes

Previous research has shown that if you have high anxiety about aging, you have poor health outcomes. But if you view it more positively as a life stage, you have better health outcomes. You’re more likely to make lifestyle changes that benefit you in the long run,” says Francis.

A Cross-Section of Experiences, Perspectives

To understand how aging anxiety relates to physical activity and other factors, like age, gender, marital status, and income, the team designed a 142-question online survey and recruited participants through Qualtrics. Francis explains they wanted a cross-section of urban, suburban, and rural residents and included people as young as 40 to understand how different aspects of aging anxiety shift with age.

Exploring Unique Perspectives: African American Participants

Among the original findings, participants who identified as African American had a higher interest in health-related programs. The researchers followed up with another study, the results of which were published in September, to focus more closely on the responses of the 178 African American survey participants.

The Fear of Loss: A Key Component of Aging Anxiety

With this subset, the researchers found the highest anxiety about aging was the fear of loss, which was greatest among people with low incomes and those who lived alone. Women who were 40-49 years of age were more concerned about changes to their physical appearance than their male counterparts and participants in older age categories.

The Role of Physical Activity In Reducing Aging Anxiety

While rates of physical activity were lower compared to white survey respondents, African American participants overall had a positive attitude about physical activity, especially strengthening exercises. “One of the most important findings is that higher positivity about physical activity relates to lower anxiety about aging,” says Francis. “Perhaps this is because the physical, mental, and social benefits of staying active contribute to overall well-being and a more favorable perception of the aging process, ultimately reducing anxiety related to growing older.”

Promoting Physical Activity as a Solution

In the paper, the researchers point to evidence that exercise, especially strength training, helps older adults conserve bone mass and muscle, reduce the risk of dementia, and retain motor control. They say the study results “can help to develop educational workshops to control aging anxiety while discussing the health benefits of [physical activity] participation.”

Addressing Barriers to Exercise in Older Adults

Francis adds that many middle-aged and older adults face barriers to exercising. Some are afraid they’ll get injured. Others don’t have transportation to gyms or live in communities that lack safe sidewalks and parks. To improve access, Francis and researchers from the multistate project aim to develop and test a virtual program that would be community-based and delivered through Extension. It would include at-home physical activities and an educational component to encourage eating healthy and protein-rich foods. “It’s always important to listen to your audience. Doing this type of work helps ensure that the messaging will resonate with those you’re trying to work with, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Francis.

 A Positive Attitude and Active Lifestyle for a More Fulfilling Aging Experience

The connection between attitude, physical activity, and aging anxiety is a critical one. As we strive to support a growing aging population, fostering a positive outlook on aging and encouraging physical activity can lead to healthier, happier lives. By addressing the unique concerns of different demographic groups and breaking down barriers to exercise, we can pave the way for a more fulfilling and anxiety-free aging experience.

1. What is aging anxiety, and how does it affect individuals?

Answer: Aging anxiety refers to the fears and concerns individuals have about the process of growing older, encompassing worries about autonomy, physical changes, and social connections. It can have a detrimental impact on one’s health and well-being, leading to poorer outcomes if not addressed positively.

2. How does a positive attitude towards physical activity influence aging anxiety?

Answer: Maintaining a positive outlook on physical activity contributes to a more favorable perception of the aging process. Engaging in regular physical activity, especially strengthening exercises, can provide physical, mental, and social benefits that contribute to overall well-being, thus reducing anxiety related to growing older.

3. What barriers do middle-aged and older adults face in terms of exercising, and how can these be addressed?

Answer: Many individuals in this age group face barriers to exercise, such as fear of injury, lack of transportation to fitness facilities, and living in communities with inadequate outdoor exercise spaces. Addressing these challenges involves developing community-based virtual programs that offer at-home physical activities and education on healthy nutrition to promote overall well-being.

4. How do factors like gender, age, marital status, and income influence perceptions of exercise and aging?

Answer: Factors such as gender, age, marital status, and income can significantly influence how individuals perceive exercise and aging. For instance, women in the 40-49 age group may be more concerned about changes to their physical appearance, while those with low incomes and living alone may experience higher anxiety about the loss associated with aging.

5. What are the potential health benefits of physical activity, especially for older adults?

Answer: Engaging in regular physical activity, particularly strength training, can help older adults preserve bone mass and muscle, reduce the risk of dementia, and maintain motor control. By promoting the Importance of physical activity, educational workshops can effectively alleviate aging anxiety while emphasizing the numerous health benefits associated with an active lifestyle.

-by Kashvi Gala

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