Psycho-social predictors of physical activity in community-dwelling and vulnerable seniors: Linking daily life processes with long-term health outcomes

Canada is an aging society, and the proportion of Canadians older than 65 is estimated to double within the next 10 years. It is well known that aging is associated with declining health, but there is also tremendous variability in aging outcomes. While physical activity can reduce the risk of many age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, Canadian seniors have low rates of physical activity.

Dr. Christiane Hoppmann’s research takes an innovative approach to examining key psychological factors, such as goals and planning, that may explain why some seniors are successful at implementing physical activity into their daily lives while others remain physically inactive. There is also recognition that the translation of physical activity goals into action demands cognitive and emotional resources that become increasingly limited with aging. For example, seniors with memory failures and fear of falling may encounter more difficulties engaging in physical activity. Hoppmann’s team will conduct an in-depth investigation of the psychological determinants of daily physical activity using a design called time-sampling. This method, which involves seniors completing a diary of their physical activities, memory, and emotions several times a day, will allow an examination of daily fluctuations across domains of functioning. Physical activity will also be assessed using portable electronic devices worn on the hip called accelerometers. Hoppmann’s team will also conduct one- and two-year follow-up assessments to link daily physical activity with long-term physical and mental health.

This research constitutes an important step to better understanding the psychological determinants of physical activity in seniors and their impact on physical and mental health. Findings will inform novel interventions (e.g. targeting goals and emotion-regulation) to promote healthy aging in community-dwelling and particularly vulnerable seniors in Canada.