National physical activity recommendations for older Australians: Discussion Document

4.2 Quality of life

The National Ageing Research Institute was commissioned by The Department of Health and Ageing to review the evidence and develop physical activity recommendations for older people.

Page last updated: 01 February 2011

The benefits of physical activity reported in this Chapter can be expected to improve quality of life. There is no evidence that physical activity is associated with poorer quality of life. Physical activity offers an effective, non-pharmacological, public health intervention for increasing and maintaining quality of life among older adults (Burdine, Felix et al. 2000; Rejeski 2001). Those who take regular activity report high levels of life satisfaction (Rejeski 2001). Quality of life is an important construct for both the healthy and the unhealthy older person. The physical activity promotion literature, particularly with regard to older people, has moved from a focus upon achieving ‘fitness’ towards an emphasis on optimising quality of life.

Attempts to confirm the benefits of physical activity for quality of life status have been hampered by variations in the definition of ‘quality of life’ across studies and by methodological challenges in the measurement of this concept. In their commentary review of the topic in older people, Ellingson and Conn recommend the use of George and Bearon’s definition, since it was specifically developed for older people:

‘quality of life is defined in terms of four underlying dimensions, two of which are objective conditions - general health/functional status and socio-economic status - and two of which reflect the personal judgement of the individual - self esteem and life satisfaction.’ (George and Bearon 1980).

Gains on the first dimension have been well documented. Improved health can be linked to reduced health expenditure, influencing the second dimension. It can be hypothesised that physical activity can improve self worth and promote social and emotional wellbeing, but the evidence base to support these dimensions of quality of life is sparse. One trial reported improvements in the quality of sleep following moderate intensity physical activity in older adults (King, Oman et al. 1997): there are potential gains for general health and life satisfaction from this outcome.

Figure 4.1 Potential outcomes of exercise that may be related to quality of life dimensions

Source: Ellingson and Conn 2000

The following sections present the evidence for each national Health Priority Area in turn.
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