The National Blueprint: Increasing Physical Activity Among Adults Age 50 and Older was developed as a guide for organizations, associations and agencies to plan strategies to help people age 50 and older increase their physical activity. This plan synthesizes input from more than 60 individuals, representing 47 organizations with expertise in health, medicine, social and behavioral sciences, epidemiology, gerontology/geriatrics, clinical science, public policy, marketing, medical systems, community organization, and environmental issues.
Regular physical activity can bring dramatic health benefits to people of all ages and abilities, according to a substantial body of scientific evidence. Media and medical professionals often tout the benefits of exercise for younger and middle-aged people. But scientific evidence increasingly indicates that physical activity can extend years of active independent life, reduce disability, and improve the quality of life for older persons as well. Although the evidence is clear, it is not yet been translated into national action. That is the aim of this Blueprint.
This document outlines steps to achieve this vision. The first section provides background on physical activity and health of Americans age 50 and older. The second section addresses the barriers to increasing physical activity among the aging population. It outlines suggested strategies related to research, home and community, workplace, medical systems, public policy and advocacy, and crosscutting issues to overcome these barriers.
Organizations are already working together to encourage physical activity among older Americans. These groups include health care organizations, health providers, aging service organizations, the private sector, government, nonprofit, and philanthropic organizations. These efforts aim to help people maintain their health, reduce chronic illness and disability and enhance their well-being and functional abilities as they age.
The National Institute of Aging has laid excellent groundwork to support a national initiative to increase physical activity among mid-life and older adults. In addition this document aligns with the United States Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 objectives.
However, no national organization or coalition is systemically addressing physical activity and older Americans. No organization is taking into account the comprehensive health issues, medical systems and reimbursement, marketing, environmental issues, education, and research that are involved in helping older Americans become physically active. Not enough visible physically active older role models exist at the community and national level. This document is intended to encourage more aggressive action, facilitate collaboration, and enhance development of additional ideas.
To translate this plan into action organizations will have to reach beyond their comfort zone. For example, many mid-life and older people are not likely to walk if they live in neighborhoods that have no sidewalks, or are dangerous.
Public health professionals will have to learn about local transportation planning and how to work with elected officials to encourage exercise friendly neighborhoods. Effective efforts to increase physical activity among older adults will require an integrated and collaborative approach that will involve community health professionals, health associations and agencies, planners, health care providers, employers, community centers, senior living facilities, transportation experts, community planners, and other diverse groups and organizations and areas of professional expertise.
This document outlines a variety of approaches to address barriers to physical activity among the age 50 and older population and suggests strategies to increase physical activity. The strategies are divided into five categories: Research, home/community, workplace, medical systems and public policy. In addition there is a category of "crosscutting" strategies that relate to more than one of these areas. Marketing and communications strategies are integrated throughout the recommendations.
Research strategies identify steps needed in research, including medical, social, behavioral, policy and marketing research. In many cases, integrating program development, implementation and evaluation will be the most effective way to implement these strategies.
The home/community strategies take into account the nature of how people live an carry out the normal tasks of daily life.
Workplace strategies recognize that people generally work in or near the community in which they live, and worksites can often operate as a community resource or center.
Medical systems are broadly defined to include health care delivery centers, e.g. clinicians' offices, clinics, medical centers, hospitals, and health-care reimbursement organizations. Professional education and continuing education are covered in these strategies.
Public policy and advocacy strategies can be carried out at the local, state and national level. Effective policy/advocacy initiatives should include coordination and collaboration among organizations and associations that share priorities and objectives.
The effective implementation of the strategies outlined in this Blueprint hinge on a number of factors:
- Organizations will need to identify clearly which strategies they wish to address, and collaborate with other groups that share an interest in that (those) strategy(ies.)
- Organizations should develop formal coalitions and partnerships with other like-minded organizations.
- Organizations should establish systems to facilitate communication and exchange information on best practices.
This Blueprint is designed to support an increase in physical activity among aging adults, and to improve the health and well being of all Americans. The key to success lies in developing and channeling resources, and working collaboratively to move the evidence about the benefits of physical activity into national action.