The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


What seniors want from exercise

Posted in
Move more

Monday, Sep 19, 2011

Over 1,800 older adults from 12 different intervention sites who had previously been inactive, participated in a behavior change program called Active for Life(R). This program was developed, in part, by The Cooper Institute and is a proven, evidence-based behavioral program for exercise.1 Recently, Renee Umstattd, assistant professor of health education at Baylor University, Waco, Texas reviewed the Active for Life research and found a very interesting, internal motivation trend for these seniors.2 Read on.

Satisfaction with Appearance or Body Function: Each participant was given a survey to determine satisfaction with their appearance and satisfaction with their body’s function. Initially, most reported they were “a little dissatisfied” or “neutral” regarding their appearance and “dissatisfied” with their body function as opposed to their appearance. The Active for Life program motivates participants to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity for 30 minutes five days a week for six months. Participants get to choose what activities they will do, like walking, cycling, etc.  Each subject participated in weekly motivational sessions either in person or linked in by phone. 

Satisfaction Results Shift After Exercise Program: The satisfaction survey at the end of the program showed that participants were “neutral” regarding their appearance and “almost satisfied” with their body function. In other words as we age we “put a premium on a well-functioning body over a "hot" body," experts said.

Previous studies have sited reduced self-esteem and the presence of depression with declines in body function. This study confirms that as appearance and body functions improved, symptoms of depression declined. But the most improvements in mental health were associated with the perceived gains in their body’s function rather than any improved appearance.

Gender Affects Satisfaction: Researchers report that, “Men thought that having a body work well was more important than women did, and men also cared less about appearance than did women.” Of further interest is the fact that the greater improvements in satisfaction with body function were associated with younger age, better health at the outset of the program, reduced body mass and greater amount of physical activity.

Application: The Active for Life program developed in part by The Cooper Institute can be purchased from Human Kinetics (Active Living Every Day) and will help you get moving, feel better, and of course improve your quality of life both for physical dimensions and mental dimensions.

Bottom Line: Seniors are looking for social opportunities and improved quality of life. As we age, there is a shift in what is important. And body function seems to supersede appearance!

1Active Living Every Day (

2Umstattd, M. R., Wilcox, S., & Dowda, M. (2011). Predictors of change in satisfaction with body appearance and body function in mid-life and older adults: active for life®. Ann Behav Med, 41(3), 342-352. DOI: 10.1007/s12160-010-9247-8.