Posted on Nov 06, 2023, 4 p.m.
Those born before 1946 (the Silent Generation 1925 to 1945) and the Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) Generation make up the fastest-aging group, and this group is on track to outnumber children by the year 2035 according to recent estimates. These estimates also suggest that since 2011, roughly 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day.
“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, Iowa State University professor and Jane Armstrong Endowed Chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition, College of Human Sciences’ interim associate dean for Iowa State Extension and Outreach and interim director for Human Sciences Extension and Outreach. However, she introduces herself as a healthy aging advocate, implementation scientist, and registered dietitian.
"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.
To understand how aging anxiety relates to physical activity and other factors the researchers designed a 142-question online survey that was distributed to a cross-section of urban, suburban, and rural residents to include those as young as 40 to understand how different aspects of aging shift with age. 1250 responded to the survey from Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
Those who identified as African American had a higher interest in health-related programs. The researchers followed up with another study to focus more closely on the responses of the 178 African-American participants. Among this subset, the fear of loss was the highest anxiety about aging, and this was the greatest among those with low incomes and those who lived alone. Women between the ages of 40-49 were more concerned about changes to their appearance than their male counterparts and those in older categories. Despite having lower rates of physical activity compared to White respondents, this subset overall had a positive attitude toward 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.”
The researchers noted that exercise, especially strength training can help older adults conserve bone and muscle mass, reduce the risk of dementia, and retain motor control. They believe these results “can help to develop educational workshops to control aging anxiety while discussing the health benefits of [physical activity] participation.”
Many middle-aged and older adults face barriers to exercising, some are scared of injury, some don’t have transportation to get to a gym, and some live in communities that lack parks and safe sidewalks. To help improve access, the researchers plan to develop and test a virtual program that would be community-based and include at-home physical activities as well as educational components to encourage healthy eating plans.
"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.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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