Working Out Stereotypes Regarding Physical Activity in Older Adults by Megan Hiatt


In our world, stereotypes are everywhere, and it is near impossible to escape the judgment they provide. Older adults face many stereotypes, ranging from the idea that they engage in more hobbies to the belief that they watch TV all the time and are less engaged in society. These two stereotypes contradict each other, yet both still exist and affect the way adults are treated and portrayed. This paper will address and refute the stereotype that older adults are weak and do not engage in physical activity. Older adults have a specific preference for their types of physical activity, tend to continue working out through pain, want to maintain their independence, enjoy the social networks, and have a preference for their environment which they work out.

Preferences of Physical Activity

For younger adults, the image of physical activity may include running, hiking, or weight lifting. However, it is important to consider that less strenuous activities can be considered physical activity, especially for older adults. In a 2015 study focusing on the physical activity preferences of older adults who receive home care, researchers concluded walking, gardening, and housework were among the most popular choices (Burton, Lewin, & Boldy, 2015). This study randomly chose 20 individuals, from a larger study of 9,199 participants, to interview regarding their opinions and preferences of physical activity. The results from the interviews were analyzed using qualitative methodology, finding that 13 engaged in walking as their activity of choice and all but one participant reported physical activity as important (Burton et al., 2015). These authors also found that walking for older adults included many platforms including housework, leisure shopping, grocery shopping, and running errands. Another study of 3,497 older adults (65-75 year olds) focusing on physical activity found similar results regarding the types of physical activity older adults engage in. Using a latent class analysis approach to characterize routines of physical activity in a cohort of older adults, this study identified five groups: least active, walkers, domestic/gardening, athletic, domestic/gardening/athletic (Mooney et al., 2015). The largest group was walkers accounting for 36.7% of the participants, then followed by athletes at 21.8%, and third was domestic/gardening at 12.8% (Mooney et al., 2015). The research also concluded that the domestic/gardening group ranked higher on the Physical Activity Scale for the elderly than the athletes group (Mooney et al., 2015). This evidence supports the claim that physical activity can include a wide range of activities and any type of movement is greatly beneficial for older adults.

Working Through Pain

Due to the vast benefits of physical activity, older adults realize the importance to engage in some type of exercise or movement, especially to avoid or work through pain. In a 2014 study, researchers explored the lives of older adults with of chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) and what their physical activity routine looked like (Moore, Richardson, Bernard, & Jordan, 2014). To conduct their study, researchers began by reanalyzing data from a previous self-report survey conducted with the North Staffordshire Osteoarthritis Project at the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Center (Moore, et al., 2014). Next, the research team used qualitative methods to explore aspects of physical activity and what meaning it held for older adults with pain. Moore et al. (2014) discovered two themes among older adults and their patterns of physical activity: deliberate engagement and strategic engagement. Deliberate engagement classified those who were active to protect against pain or in response to pain and strategic engagement referred to those who adapted their activity in response to the increasing amount of interfering pain and disability (Moore et al., 2014). The results of this study identified some strategies that older adults used to remain active even with pain, which included, taking more frequent breaks, splitting chores over several days, and using physical aids to keep stiff joints moving (Moore et al., 2014). One of the study’s participants, an 80-year-old man, usually walks over a mile a day, but with the onset of pain can no longer do so, he began to take one dish at a time to the cupboards when unloading the dishwasher to increase his movement (Moore et al., 2014). One of the main results from this study concluded that older people are concerned to lose their mobility and the fear of losing independence and being perceived as “frail” or “elderly” is a large motivating factor (Moore et al., 2014). This finding is common among other studies as to why older adults continue with physical activity.

Remaining Independent & Staying Social

Due to the stereotypes that exist, it is sometimes surprising to see older adults working out or being physical active. A 2012 study addresses the curiosity of older adults exercising by taking a qualitative approach to learn the motives influencing older adults decision to exercise and continue with the activity (Lübcke, Martin, & Hellström, 2012). This smaller study interviewed eight members from a senior gym in Stockholm, Sweden to understand their motivation to start working out and to continue to do so. Some of the reasons for starting to exercise were control of injury and illness, maintaining a routine, and for something to do (Lübcke et al., 2012). Given reasons for continuing with the exercise and training were preserving health, staying social, and being more available with time (Lübcke et al., 2012). One older adult during the interview process stated that retirement has given him more time to do things he likes, which included working out more (Lübcke et al., 2012). Another participant talked about the benefit of gaining strength to stay strong and maintain freedom so they would avoid having to leave their homes and independence (Lübcke et al., 2012). One other testament from a different participant of the study discussed the social benefit of working out by stating that she meets friends there to socialize with outside the gym and go get coffee with in her other spare time (Lübcke et al., 2012). Along with the motive to maintain independence and create social networks, older adults have preferences for the environment they work out in.

Preference of Environment

Along with preferences for the type of physical activity, older adults also show a preference for the type of environment they choose to exercise in. In the study conducted at the Stockholm senior gym, the older adults reported they preferred the environment there because of the peers, staff, accessible machines, and the ability to exercise at their own pace (Lübcke et al., 2012). Being at a senior gym, the community is represented by the older adults who participate there and becomes a safe and open-minded environment. To become a member at the senior gym, one must be at least 65 years old, so the environment is slower paced than a typical gym. For older adults, this is comforting, and one participant claimed that she feels less of a burden when working out near others of her own age and ability (Lübcke et al., 2012). Another woman who participated in the study stated she was more comfortable working out with people like her who do not know much more about exercise than she does (Lübcke et al., 2012). Creating an environment for older adults to work out encourages a safe area to promote physical activity.


Older adults are still engaging in physical activity and exercise despite the stereotypes that exist. While the types of activity may differ with old age, it is important that they are remaining active and continuing to move. The image of physical activity and exercise tends to look difference for older adults, but the benefits and importance remains the same. With certain preferences for activities and environment and different motivating factors, older adults are still participating in a kind of physical activity that fits their lifestyles.




Burton, E., Lewin, G., & Boldy, D. (2015). Physical activity preferences of older home care clients. International Journal of Older People Nursing, 10(3), 170-178. doi: 10.1111/opn.12065

Lübcke, A., Martin, C., & Hellström, K. (2012). Older adults’ perceptions of exercising in a senior gym. Activities, Adaptation, & Aging, 36(2), 131-146. doi:

Mooney, S.J., Joshi, S., Cerdá, M., Quinn, J.W., Beard, J.R., Kennedy G.J., Benjamin E.O., Ompad, D.C., & Rundle, A.G. (2015). Patterns of physical activity among older adults in New York City: A latent class approach. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 49(3), 13-22. doi:

Moore, A.J., Richardson, J.C., & Sim, J., Bernard, M., & Jordan K.P. (2014). Older people’s perceptions of remaining physical active and living with chronic pain. Qualitative Health Research, 24(6), 761-772. doi: 10.117/10497322314526663


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