Physical Activity and Self-Worth in Older Adults

The benefits of physical activity are immeasurable. They include increased strength, lower risk for diabetes and cardiovascular problems, and better overall physical health. Physically active individuals tend to have lower blood pressure and less stress than sedentary people. These many positive affects coalesce to protect active people from psychological problems, too. Physical exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve overall well-being. Because even moderate, low-impact exercise has numerous benefits, older adults are encouraged to engage in some form of physical activity. As people age, they are more vulnerable to health risks associated with aging. Exercise can help decrease their risk of physical, emotional, and mental issues. Thus, it is no surprise that increasing the level of physical activity in the older population is a major focus in the public health arena.

Justin B. Moore of the Department of Health Promotion, Education & Behavior at the University of South Carolina wanted to determine if current measures of physical activity and self-efficacy were accurately capturing older individuals’ perception of their health. To do this, Moore employed the Exercise and Self-Esteem Model (ESEM) in a recent study on 222 individuals with an average age of 73. Moore expanded the existing model and included questions addressing self-worth, self-efficacy related to physical activity, self-perceptions of physical appearance, and other demographic information.

The results revealed that the new and improved ESEM captured a very accurate and revealing picture of how older individuals gauge their physical health in relation to their mental health. In particular, there were several factors that did not seem to matter to the older participants but are found to be quite relevant with younger respondents. These included sports competence, physical endurance, and body fat. The participants rated physical appearance as a significant factor related to self-esteem and self-worth. Additionally, coordination was salient, perhaps because it is critical for maintaining a regular exercise regimen, which improves well-being. In sum, Moore believes that the revised ESEM used in this study provides a more comprehensive picture of how older individuals value exercise and how this relates to their overall well-being and self-esteem. “If future research confirms the specific patterns found in this study, it will do much to advance our understanding of physical activity in this population,” he added.

Moore, Justin B., Nathanael G. Mitchell, Michael W. Beets, and John B. Bartholomew. Physical self-esteem in older adults: A test of the indirect effect of physical activity. Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology 1.4 (2012): 231-41. Print.

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  • John


    December 4th, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    In my practice I see a lot of older patients who literally given up on life. They have no one to engage with or be active with therefore they have let go of that will and the desire to live. I see them everyday and they all go downhill so quickly when they lose this, and it makes me sad to think of just how easy some of this could be avoided if only they had something in their lives that could keep them inspired and willing to keep going. But when they lose that motivation, then for most of them, that’s it and they just give up.

  • MD


    December 4th, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    My parents thankfully never had any health conditions in their youth or middle aged. Now my they are in their 60s and never exercise. They say they are fine and don’t need it!

    I keep telling them but no they don’t listen. How do I convince them?

  • barnard


    December 5th, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    physical activity does help you fell more confident about yourself,whether you’re young old.but i suppose it carries an added reward for older adults – that of knowing you are not dependent on anybody and that you can take care of yourself. i believe that is an immensely satisfying feeling to have.add the physical and mental health benefits to that and there really is no reason to not be physically active.

  • Alice


    December 5th, 2012 at 11:19 PM

    Always a good idea to put yourself through whatever test you prefer. Gives you that little bit of extra confidence and self worth I think.

    And for older people with the impending health concerns and finances drying up that would be a definite shot in the arm.

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