Physical & Leisure Activities Leads to Happiness in Older Adults By Lyanne Kue

As young adults we are told that daily exercise is good for our body and maintains our metabolism as we grow older, as well as decreasing the chances of acquiring health problems such as arthritis. This statement only seems to become clearer and more relevant as majority of our population begins to reach this older stage in life and development. One stereotype about older adults that was of interest to me was that they tend to be more happy about life and that they would only get happier as they get older. I wanted to see if there is a correlation between the amount of physical activity and subjective well-being and life satisfaction. According to Khazee-pool et al (2015), there has been researchers who has identified three main components of happiness such as positive affection or joy, high level of life satisfaction over a period of time and the absence of negative feelings such as depression and anxiety. Throughout this paper, we will focus on how the presence of physical activity, leisure activities and income levels can affect not only the human body positively but also how being active can improve mental health and the decline of depression symptoms which plays an important role in increasing one’s overall life satisfaction in older adults.

The study conducted by Paul D. Loprinzi (2013) was to examine the association between accelerometer-determined physical activity, which consistently assessed the frequency, intensity, and duration of physical activity and depression symptoms. Participants of this study included of 708 older adults with mean age of 65 years or older recruited from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). These participants were asked to wear this accelerometer for 7 days following their examination of a Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) that asked simple questions of “how often have you been bothered by feeling down, hopeless, feeling tired or having little energy”, used to measure their level of depression. Throughout the 7 days, the accelerometer kept track of activity counts, which were categorized into 3 separate groups that were either considered light-intensity, moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity physical activity. The results showed that for every 60 minutes of light-intensity physical activity participants were 20% less likely to report depression symptoms and for every 1 minute increase in engaging in moderate-intensity physical activity, participants were 22% less likely to report depression symptoms. These findings help support that engaging in light-intensity activities as an older adult will be less likely to show signs of depression symptoms (Loprinzi, 2013). This study helps supports that being involved in light-intensity activities will decrease any depression symptoms therefore increasing their levels of happiness and satisfaction.

Since Loprinzi’s study (2013) indicated that participating in light to moderate intensity physical activities contributed to lower signs of depressive symptoms, the study conducted by Khazee-pool et al. (2015), implemented an 8-week long physical exercise program (PEP) to determine happiness among older adults in Iran. A randomized control study was conducted with 120 participants with the average age being 71 years of age with an experimental group involving the 8-week PEP and a control group without the PEP. In order to collect and measure a baseline of well-being and happiness, an Oxford Happiness Inventory (OHI) was given to the participants to complete before and 2 months after the implementation of PEP, OHI included 29 items that were presented with 4 incremental levels from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The experimental group participated in PEP 3 times a week in the morning at 10:30am in a public park as the control group were told to continue with their everyday routine tasks. Results from this study showed that there was a significance between happiness and gender as women were more happier than men. After the PEP was given to the experimental group, participants happiness increased by 50% concluding that the greater amount of physical activity is strongly associated with an increase in positive mood and decrease in negative mood (Khazee-pool et al., 2015). Through both of these studies, older adults engaging in physical activities which involved increasing the circulatory system had a significant increase in ones’ happiness. Due to the decrease in depressive symptoms, life satisfaction indeed increased through PEP and light to moderate intense activities, positively increasing the mental health of older adults, as they tend to have happier thoughts becoming more relaxed and feeling healthy. This study supports that older adults who increase their physical activities or engage in regular physical activities show positive signs of being happy with life.

Through studies and research other factors such as income level and the type of leisure activity did have an impact on happiness levels in older adults, as what we will see in the next two studies.

The study conducted by Lobos et al. (2016), explored the differences between gender in factors of affective component of well-being and happiness in older adults living in rural areas of Chile. Participants in this study consisted of 389 seniors living in the rural areas of central Chile. The main focus of this study was to see if income levels affected the perceptive of food with older adults and how this is related to happiness. Trained professionals gave questionnaires regarding the participants’ perception of their happiness level on a scale a 7-point scale and Satisfaction with Food-related Life (SWFL) to participants through interviews. From these results, happiness in rural seniors was related to severable variables where food satisfaction, health perception and the independence in daily activities were sources of happiness for Chilean older adults. Here women were happier than men and was explained through how women may have more leisure time to stay at home and benefit from the flow of services that were available in the home. Both men and women who were in good health and had dinner with frequent companions were more satisfied and happy with their economic situation. Because their economic status and income level did not affect their happiness, we can infer that income does not determine life satisfaction in older adults as long as there is good company and equal amounts of leisure time (Lobos et al., 2016). This study refutes that income level is associated to being happier as you grow older.

In order to understand what kind of leisure activities lead to higher subjective well-being and life satisfaction, Heo et al. (2014), examined how involvement in certain activities is related to subjective well-being (SWB) in older adults through exploring situational and behavioral factors such as type of activities, day of week and the social context. This study was relatively small and only composed of 12 older adults, 6 being male and 6 being female with the average age being 71 years of age. The criteria that these participants had to meet was that they had to be physically healthy and independent as well as being affiliated with activity programs of painting, crafts, dance and yoga. Heo et al., collected data through Experience Sampling Method (ESM), and were given a pre-programmed wristwatch that was set to beep randomly 7 times a day between 9am and 9pm for a total of 7 days. The activity types were grouped into 4 categories of personal activities (washing, grooming, sleeping, toileting), housework activities (lawn care, pet care, cooking, home maintenance), active leisure (exercising, playing games/sports, creating art), and passive leisure (relaxing, playing cards, using computer, watching TV). Social context of the study just included the participants to record who they were with at what time of day when the watch beeped and what activity they were taking part in. These results showed that participants did report being happier, friendly, sociable and alert, and that there was a significant higher level of SWB when participants were engaged in active leisure activities when they were with others on the weekdays than when they were by themselves doing personal activities (Heo et al., 2016). These studies were able to give us insight to how being physically active and engaging in active leisure activities decreases the chances of developing depression symptoms which directly increases life satisfaction and well-being supporting the stereotype that older adults who engage in any sort of physical activity are more likely to be happier. Being around others and being social as an older adult continues to allow us to cognitively think about process and possibilities through games and exercise allowing for practices of self-care and self-efficacy.


Heo, J., Kim, J., Kim, B., & Heo, S. (2014). Weekend experiences and subjective well-being of retired older adults. American Journal of Health Behavior, 38(4), 598-604. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.38.4.13

Khazee-pool, M., Sadeghi, R., Majlessi, F., & Rahimi Foroushani, A. (2015). Effects of physical exercise programme on happiness among older people. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 22(1), 47-57. doi: 10.1111/jpm.12168

Lobos, G., Grunert, K., Bustamante, M., & Schnettler, B. (2016). With Health and Good Food, Great Life! Gender Differences and Happiness in Chilean Rural Older Adults. Social Indicators Research, 127(2), 865-885. doi: 10.1007/s11205-015-0971-0

Loprinzi, P.D. (2013) Objectively measured light and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is associated with lower depression levels among older US adults. Aging & Mental Health, 17(7), 801-805. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2013.801066


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