Older adults seem to be more motivated by scheduled workouts, including the role of a fitness coach or a significant person involved in their exercise goals, when compared to those getting exercise only through spontaneous physical activity.
Researchers tested a mathematical and psychological model on two different samples of older adults: the first doing spontaneous physical activity, the second engaged in an exercise class. This theoretical model tried to understand what is really important to encourage and maintain the intention to do physical activity.
The results suggest a psychological construct called autonomous motivation, in which subjects experience a sensation of value and self-worth tied to the activities. Participants that felt a sense of autonomous motivation during an exercise program were more successful at beginning and maintaining a more healthy, active lifestyle, despite possible interruptions caused by physical discomfort or scheduling challenges.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Gerotarget, a section of Oncotarget. Psychologists from the faculty of Medicine and Psychology of Sapienza, University of Rome, led by Prof. Fabio Lucidi, partnered with the American research team of Prof. Antonio Giordano, Director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Department of Biology, Temple University, and University of Siena, Italy to produce the study.
The aging of the world’s population is a steadily growing phenomenon, with the older adult population expected to triple by the year 2050. Therefore, taking care of older adults is considered an important social goal. Physical activity and exercise are two behaviors that may prevent diseases, cognitive decline, and loneliness among older adults. Despite the well-established positive effects of physical activity and exercise, data shows that few older adults are engaged in these behaviors.
“This study,” explains first author Federica Galli, “shows clearly that the sensation autonomous motivation leads older adults to be successful implementing these healthy behaviors.”
“Thanks to the new therapies produced by oncological research, a lot of patients with oncological diseases will be able to live normal life expectancies,” Giordano adds. “For this reason, it’s very important to study the mechanisms to motivate people to exercise, given the therapeutic role of fitness and physical activity in oncological diseases.”
The study provides guidelines for professionals that work in preventive medicine in the older population, so that they can support the perception of autonomy that could increase their motivation to start and maintain physical activity and exercise.
“The NCI of Naples has always been sensitive to this issue,” says Scientific Director of the National Cancer Institute of Naples, Gerardo Botti. “In the future, I am already considering the implementation of new studies that would consider the application of this model to target populations more at risk such as our oncology patients,” Botti says.