Stereotypes of Older Adults Being Non-Athletic and Weak, Hailey Nelson


Stereotypes about Aging

Stereotype of Older Adults Being Non-Athletic and Weak

Colorado State University

Professor Burzynska, HDFS312


There are many stereotypes associating with aging, including the stereotype of older adults being non-athletic or weak. There are various aspects of aging that contribute to the physical ability of older adults; some of which are explained in four articles, which I chose two of to contradict the stereotype, one to support, and one that both supports and contradicts.

In the first article written by Lummel, Walgaard, Pijhappels, Elders, Garcia-Ayemerich, Van Dieen, and Beek in 2015, it was apparent that the more physical activity you engage in as an older adult, the better physical performance you will have. The purpose of this study was to focus on the mobility of older adults by showing the importance of physical activity using physical performance tests. The method used in this study was to choose participants of 70 years or older who could pass a mental state exam and could walk 20m without breathing or respiratory difficulties. This left them with 49 older adults with an average age of 82.8 years. The study consisted of multiple physical performance tests used to connect the participant to their physical activity assessment. The physical activity assessment included the measuring of their day-to-day activity including lying down, sitting, walking etc., for one week. The results for this study included the positive correlation between physical activity and physical performance. The participants, who had a lower physical activity rate throughout the week, inevitably had a lower physical performance score. There are obviously inevitable changes humans go through as we get older such as biological forces that may be out of your control effecting you in a big way, or the effects of the brittling of bones and atrophy of muscles if exercise is not prevalent in ones life throughout older adulthood. However, because of the direct correlation between physical activity and physical performance, this study helps contradict the stereotype because older adults who make a priority to continue physical activity everyday will have a great opportunity to stay in shape and be as strong as their body will allow.

Osteoporosis can become a common yet painful diagnosis in late adulthood. Based on the article by Nayak, Roberts, Greenspan, in 2009, approximately half of postmenopausal women and one fourth of white men over 60 years of age will sustain an osteoporotic fracture in their life. The trouble with osteoporosis is that many individuals with the disease are not diagnosed or treated. The purpose of this study was to identify the characteristics and symptoms of osteoporosis that lead to proper diagnosis and treatment. The methods used in this study included a cross-sectional survey of 1,268 men and women 60 years or older in Pennsylvania. The survey continued over 6 months and asked about various sociodemographics, osteoporosis risk factors, mobility, falls, prior fractures and many other factors that may lead to information about diagnosis of osteoporosis. The goal from this method was to gather information from these participants who had been diagnosed with osteoporosis prior to the study and what their symptoms may have been. The results included that most of the individuals who were diagnosed with osteoporosis were female, or had a history of oral steroid use. The results also showed that there is a significant positive correlation between age and family history of osteoporosis. This situation fits into the biological forces that can affect older adults and their athletic ability. I would say this study supports the stereotype, even though osteoporosis is often not the person’s fault. Since individuals can be biologically prone to osteoporosis, their strength and activity level may be compromised in late adulthood.

I chose to look into weight gain and the prevention of weight gain through physical activity in older adults. In a study by Stehr, and Lengerke in 2012, they researched the prevention of weight gain through excersize in older adults, as in the recent years the appearance of being overweight has increased across all age groups in many countries. The purpose of the study was to make awareness to the role of physical activity in order to prevent weight gain in older adults with decreasing mobility. The method used in this study was to actually just review 13 other studies based on weight gain in older adults. After reviewing the various studies, the results appeared that overall there was a rather steady correlation between exercise and the lack of weight gain vs. no excersize and the prevalence of weight gain. However, one aspect I found interesting was in one study, running long distance for men over the course of a year resulted in weight loss, where in women overall it cause weight and BMI gain. Since the authors did not do that study there weren’t any results, but my thoughts were there may have been the presence of post menopause in these women. Many aspects of the female body are inevitable regardless of how you are physically active. This leads me to the idea that this study both contradicts and supports the stereotype of athletic ability and strength as an older adult. For the most part there is a positive correlation in the lack of weight gain with physical activity, however some people are prone to various health issues in late adulthood, leading them to have a decrease in strength or ability to be mobile over time.

The last article focused on the correlation between all forms of activity engagement such as physical activity, mental activity, and social activity and how that relates to overall physical function in older adults. The purpose of this study was to look at the relationship between individual and group activities and how they play into physical function. The method used was a cross-sectional design that took place in two waves 10 years apart. The various activities were measured differently; for instance, physical activity was measured by grip strength, and gait speed, as well as a questionnaire asking about the frequency of participation in various leisure sports such as golf or tennis. Mental activity was measured by a survey which asked how often participants engaged in mental games like cards, or word games. Lastly, social activity was measured by how often the older adults attended social groups they might have. The results were rather conclusive and steady in that physical activity was related to grip strength and gait speed; mental activity related to grip strength, maybe correlated to using pencils or pens and holding different utensils; and social activity was not related to either, assuming because that is more of a mental activity than physical. The study provided evidence that engaging in multiple forms of activity can increase physical function more than just one form. This study definitely contradicts the stereotype of older adults being less athletic and weaker, because there are many older adults who partake in lots of activities including sports every day. They may be decreasing their own ability, but they still have the ability to be athletic and strong in their current bodies.

The stereotype of older adults being non-athletic and weak can both be contradicted and supported throughout these 4 articles depending on how you look at them. The prevalence of physical activity in older adults is very important, and each person can positively affect their strength and athleticism based on their activity level in day-to-day life. Although many aspects of aging are uncontrollable, everyone has the opportunity to be the healthiest, strongest, most athletic version of themselves when getting into later adulthood, just by the want and need for physical activity.


van Lummel Rob C., Walgaard Stefan, Pijnappels Mirjam, Elders Petra J.M, Garcia-Aymerich Judith, van Dieen Jaap H, Beek Peter J. (2015) Physical Performance and Physical Activity in Older Adults: Associated but Separate Domains of Physical Function in Old Age. Public Library of Science ONE. Vol. 10 Issue 12, p1-16. 16p.

Nayak S., Robert M.S., Greenspan S.L. (2009) Factors associated with diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis in older adults. Osteoporosis International. Vol. 20 Issue 11, p1963-1967. 5p.

Shah Krupa N., Lin Feng V., Yu Fang, McMahon James M. (2017) Activity engagement and physical function in old age sample. Archives of Gerontology & Geriatrics. Vol. 69, p55-60. 6p.

Stehr Mareike D., Lengerke Thomas von. (2012) Preventing weight gain through exercise and physical activity in the elderly: A systematic review. Elsevier B.V. Vol. 72 Issue 1, p13-22. 10p.,


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