Research Article: Factors influencing regular physical exercise among the elderly in residential care facilities in a South African health district

Date Published: April 11, 2018

Publisher: AOSIS

Author(s): Abiodun A. Aro, Sam Agbo, Olufemi B. Omole.


Physical exercise plays an important role in healthy ageing, but the elderly do not engage in it regularly.

In this cross-sectional study, we sampled 139 residents of residential care facility. A questionnaire was used to obtain information on participants’ demography, health problems, nature, motivators and barriers to exercise. Chi-square test examined the relationship between participants’ characteristics and their engagement in regular exercise.

Of the 139 participants, the majority were females (71.9%), white people (82.7%), aged 70 years or more (70.5%), had at least one health problem (85.6%) and were overweight or obese (60.4%). Approximately 89.2% engaged in some form of physical activities but only 50.3% reported engaging regularly. Participant’s knowledge of the benefits of regular physical activities, opportunities to socialise, encouragement by health care workers and availability of exercise facilities and trainers promote regular physical exercise. Barriers to regular exercise included poor health status, lack of knowledge of the benefits of regular physical activities, lack of opportunities to socialise, lack of encouragement by health care workers and unavailability of exercise facilities and trainers. Factors that predicted exercise were age 60–69 years (p = 0.02), being Afrikaans speaking (p = 0.04) and completing high school (p = 0.03).

A significant proportion of the elderly do not engage in regular physical exercise, and this behaviour is influenced by personal health status and systems-related motivators and barriers.

Partial Text

Regular exercise delays the onset of chronic diseases and disabilities, and facilitates their control.1 Not only is there a reduction in cardiovascular risks through the lowering of blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides, there are also increases in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), insulin sensitivity, fibrinolysis and arterial wall compliance.2 In the musculoskeletal system, regular exercise in the elderly has been shown to enhance gait and balance, leading to a reduction in the incidence of falls.2 Even regular exercise or physical activities initiated late in life have been reported to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with sedentary lifestyle.3 Recognising these benefits, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends moderate intensity activity lasting at least 30 min a day, for at least 5 days a week or 150 min a week for the elderly to stay physically active.4 However, despite the benefits of regular physical activity, reports from elsewhere suggest that the elderly do not exercise regularly and that engagement in physical activities progressively declines with age.5

Of the 823 eligible RCF residents, 646 did not meet the inclusion criteria and were thus excluded. Of the eligible 177 residents, 38 declined to participate, leaving 139 participants, all of whom were consecutively sampled in the study (response rate of 78%).

This study found that about half of the residents in RCFs engage in regular physical activities and only a minority do so regularly. Residents aged 60–69 years, who are Afrikaans speaking, females, with normal body mass index, widowed and attended high school were more likely to engage in regular physical activities. These findings confirm those of previous studies elsewehere12,13,19,20 and highlight the enormous missed opportunities that exist in leveraging the health benefits of regular physical exercise for improved health status of the elderly in South Africa.




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