Motivating Elders to Initiate and Maintain Exercise


Although the health benefits of physical activity for elderly persons are well established, exercise is an underused form of health promotion, especially in the elderly population. Physicians must play a more active role in motivating their patients to exercise. Clinicians historically have not actively promoted physical activity and sometimes have even actively discouraged activity. Motivation is not simply a static description of an individual’s personality; rather, it is comprised of many modifiable factors. We can think of the motivational model presented earlier in terms of the motivation of health care professionals reading this article to adopt the practice of recommending exercise to their elderly patients. The perceived importance of this goal is improved through information about the benefits of exercise in the elderly. The perceived success of the physician in affecting change in the elder’s exercise habits is improved through information about the efficacy of this behavior. Perceived cost is lessened through concrete, easily achievable, quick recommendations for how to influence the exercise habits of elders. Last, the inclination for health care professionals to remain sedentary, that is, not advocate for their elderly patients to exercise, is addressed: patients often perceive lack of advice from physicians to exercise as tacit support for sedentary behavior.

Elders face particular challenges in motivating to activity, including illnesses, misinformed belief systems, lack of a peer group, accessibility, financial concerns, a sense of disempowerment, and fear of injury. In tailoring individualized exercise prescriptions for our elder patients, one must take into account each patient’s specific motivational limitations and address each of these issues independently. Such a methodologic and organized approach to counseling elders on physical activity will help physicians assist their elderly patients toward greater activity.

Interventions to increase Motivation

  • Education
  • Physical therapy
  • Adapted activities and equipment
  • Socialisation
  • Treating concurrent morbidities
  • Accessible activity options
  • Safety training
  • Gradual exercise progression
  • Affordable activity options