Dr. Maria KosmaDr. Maria Kosma is a professor in the School of Kinesiology at Louisiana State University. Dr. Koma is interested in the examination of psychosocial determinants of physical activity and the relation among psychosocial factors, physical activity, and health for such populations as adults with physical disabilities and older adults.

ElderBranch interviewed Dr. Kosma to discuss her paper “An Expanded Framework to Determine Physical Activity and Falls Risks Among Diverse Older Adults.”

Why did you decide to research the relationships between physical activity and falls risk in older adults? Why is this topic important?

Falls risk is one of the most severe health-related risks among older adults because it is linked to falling and its related consequences, such as nonfatal and fatal injuries, limited independence in daily activities, hospitalization, disability, post-fall anxiety syndrome, and fear of falling.

Physical activity is one important way to prevent falls, increase independence in daily activities, reduce stress and depression, and improve quality of life. It is recommended that older adults accumulate 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity. However, only 22% of people over 65 years old are regularly active. One reason for this is low exercise motivation. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine what motivates racially/ethnically, economically, and educationally diverse older adults to be active and prevent their risks of falls.

Please describe your study. What were your in-going hypotheses?

It was hypothesized that if people felt supported towards exercise participation, valued the benefits of exercise, and felt confident to be active, they would be at the active stages in which individuals are physically active and have high exercise motivation. Negative exercise perceptions, such as lack of social support, high number of exercise barriers, and lack of exercise confidence would be common among people in the pre-action stages, in which people are not physically active and they have low exercise motivation.

What were the key findings from your research?

The study hypotheses were supported in that positive exercise perceptions, especially strong feelings of social support, were common among people in the active stages, whereas negative exercise perceptions were shared among people in the pre-action stages. Additionally, being in the active stages was linked to increased exercise participation versus being in the pre-action stages. Exercise participation, in turn, was linked to reduced risks of falls.

Based on your findings, what recommendations would you make to healthcare providers, senior center directors, and others charged with developing physical activity programs for seniors?

Based on the study’s findings, health promoters would need to develop motivating exercise programs in order to increase physical activity participation and prevent the risks of falls among diverse older adults. In particular, health promoters would need to a) provide supportive and non-threatening exercise settings, b) reinforce the positive outcomes (benefits) of exercise programs, and c) identify ways to overcome exercise barriers and increase one’s exercise confidence and control.

What are the next steps in terms of furthering the research in this area? How can the framework used in this study be applied to future studies?

Beyond falls risk prevention, the studied framework can be used to determine different health outcomes linked to exercise, such as weight control and cancer prevention. In this way, the development and implementation of effective health promotion programs can be facilitated.

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