Promoting the well-being of elderly women through exercise
By the next decade, 5.1 percent of the British population will be over the age of eighty years. Women will make up over half of this figure. Finding ways of helping elderly women to maintain good health and therefore well-being, will become even more critical. Exercise is increasingly being recognised as a possible way of promoting health for elderly women, as evidence is emerging of the physical and psychological benefits that accrue from exercise. However, the empirical research evidence on exercise has derived mainly from young and middle-aged males, which means little is known about the specific benefits of exercise for the elderly and there are few tools to measure accurately exercise behaviour in this population. In the few exercise studies which have been conducted with the elderly, methodological flaws have often left the results unclear. Exercise up-take and adherence amongst elderly women is also low and psychological models have so far failed to adequately explain the reasons for this. To achieve the aim of this thesis to contribute to knowledge on the relationship between physical activity and well-being in elderly women, three studies are conducted. In study one, a postal questionnaire for measuring exercise behaviour, beliefs and attitudes in this population was first developed (the London Health and Fitness Questionnaire; LHFQ) with 248 elderly women. Second in study two, a randomised controlled trial of 100 post-menopausal women assigned to either a six month brisk walking programme or homeopathic dose of exercise was conducted. Baseline and six month measures of stamina, leg strength, exercise attitudes (using the LHFQ) and subjective health status (using the Nottingham Health Profile; NHP) were taken. Finally, study three is exploratory, and examines the influences on elderly women's participation in domestic and sporting physical activity, in a sample of 820 retirees from a major national retail company. The LHFQ and the NHP were used to obtain data. In study one, the reliability and validity of the LHFQ proved acceptable. Re-test reliability was best for number of hours spent on carrying out errands and recreational exercise, but lowest for reports on past exercise experience and identifying barriers to exercise. The LHFQ appears to have satisfactory face, content and construct validity. In study two, repeated measures ANOVAs were used to detect any changes between and within the brisk walking and placebo exercise groups over the six month period. Mean scores on the NBP indicated that the brisk walking programme had a more beneficial impact on health status, with significant improvement in perceived physical mobility. Significant positive changes were also noted for brisk walkers on two exercisea ttitudes tatementsS. taminaa nd leg strengths ignificantlyi mprovedf or both groups over time. A number of threats to the internal validity of the study findings emerged and these are discussed at length. In study three, multiple regression analyses indicated that although different factors influence domestic and sporting activity, good-health status and age (being younger) are core variables influencing both these activities. In addition, positive exercise beliefs and attitudes, and past exercise experience were shown to influence exercise behaviour.