Behavioral researcher R.J. Shepard states that motivation to make change is impacted by:

·        attitudes towards behavior,

·         perceived “norms” for behavior,

·        belief that friends, family, co-workers, etc.) think he should or shouldn’t perform behavior,

·         motivation to comply (or not comply) with perceived wishes,

·         belief that change is positive,

·         belief that action taken will result in desired change.

For example, most 40+ individuals consider regular physical activity as a positive aspiration (even it they don’t actually do it!). However, for many 65+ individuals, sedentary behavior my be the perceived norm and considered an earned right. To understand this perception, take into account common attitudes and beliefs they may have developed about physical activity (exercise) throughout their lifetime.

For the 65+ demographic physical activity was largely associated with hard work and “voluntary” exercise may have been considered a frivolous use of time for men, and unladylike or even harmful for women. In addition, during the Industrial Revolution avoiding physical exertion by purchasing labor saving devices and/or hiring others to do physical work represented financial success. After spending a good portion of their adult lives trying to reduce the demands of physical work, it is not surprising that many 65+ adults now shun physical activity.

Existing wellness “environments” both at work and home also have an impact on motivation. For example, does standing up from the computer to stretch and move bring stares or others joining in? If someone chooses to walk/jog at lunch do they receive reinforcement or subtle resentment from co-workers? In a senior housing community does an individual stopped in the hallway to participate in an exercise station feel foolish and conspicuous, or believe that his behavior is in line with perceived norms?

In essence, verbal and non-verbal messages of family, co-workers and friends send strong signals about the importance of and perceived wishes and norms for physical activity behavior.  Some individuals will desire to comply with the perceived wishes of others, some will be motivated to do just the opposite; either way it’s a strong dynamic impacting change.  What’s your wellness environment?

One year from now do you expect to be; (a) stronger and more agile, (b) weaker and less agile or (c) the same as you are today?” Most people answer (a) or (c) to that question, however, research documents that from peak strength in early adulthood (about age 30), the average person loses approximately 1-1.5% of their strength per year .

That doesn’t sound like much until you do the math and realize losses of about 30% by age 60, 45% by age 70, and 60% by age 80.  Consider that losing half of one’s strength would be roughly the equivalent of going about daily tasks while carrying someone of equal weight on your back.   

What are you doing today and every day to ensure you’ll maintain or increase your strength?  If you are not strength training on a regular basis (at least 2x/week) or engaged in a physically challenging job or hobby, you will not be the same or better in a year. It’s time to get real about what you are actually doing on a regular basis to ensure you maintain an optimal level of function through your full lifespan.

If you answered (b)-expecting to decline, what is that expectation based upon; personal belief systems, media images, misconceptions, norms? Expectations profoundly impact outcomes so I encourage you to refer to Age Brilliantly blob posts, Aging Equals Decline Myth (June 8) and The Problem With Ageism (April 10).  Change your mind, change your life!!

The Decade-by-Decade Guide to Exercise.    Another title in Oprah Magazines Anti-Aging issue, October 2006.  It gives advice for 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.  Then stops.  Does this imply that exercise isn’t important or advisable or possible in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond?   The fact is exercise is critical for staying healthy at every age.   It’s interesting to note that young people (under 20) with poor lifestyle habits (lack of exercise and poor nutrition) exhibit functional restrictions such as lack of strength, balance, coordination and cardiovascular endurance. Teens are also suffering from conditions such as diabetes and obesity in unprecedented numbers.  Functional restrictions and chronic conditions are commonly attributed to aging yet, young inactive teens clearly show us the true impact of lifestyles on health and vitality.