From fear to fitness: study suggests exercise may ease aging anxiety in African Americans

In a recent study published in Physical Activity and Health, a group of researchers examined the relationship between aging anxiety and its four constructs with physical activity (PA) levels and attitudes in middle-aged and older African Americans.

Study: Aging Anxiety and Physical Activity Outcomes among Middle and Older Age African Americans. Image Credit: Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock.com
Study: Aging Anxiety and Physical Activity Outcomes among Middle and Older Age African Americans. Image Credit: Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock.com

Background 

Anxiety about aging involves concerns surrounding the process of growing older, potentially resulting in psychological effects like depression and isolation. This anxiety is characterized by fears associated with old age, mental distress, worries about physical changes, and concerns over losing independence.

Most studies on aging anxiety have focused on younger or older adults, but not middle-aged. As people age, anxiety levels typically decrease due to adaptation. Positive attitudes towards aging promote healthier behaviors, whereas negative views can harm physical and psychological health.

Notably, African Americans experience higher aging anxiety compared to Whites, coupled with increased physical inactivity rates and numerous barriers to exercise. Given the unique aging anxieties and physical inactivity trends among African Americans and the limited studies on middle-aged adults, there is a need for further research on the interplay between aging anxiety, attitudes towards physical activity, and actual engagement in PA within this demographic.

About the study 

In the present cross-sectional study, 178 African American adults aged 40 and above were chosen from a broader sample of 1,250 community-dwelling adults. The participants were sourced from Qualtrics between September and November 2020, spanning six states and Washington D.C. The participants were selected based on their ability to understand and answer the survey questions and their internet access, aiming to represent various age and racial groups.

The survey used established instruments to gather data on socio-demographic details, aging anxiety, and attitudes and participation in PA. Aging anxiety was measured using Lasher and Faulkender's 1993 scale, while attitudes toward PA were based on the Theory of Planned Behavior. This explored participants' enjoyment of PA and their perceived benefits and drawbacks. 

The study also employed the National Health Interview Survey Questionnaire to assess PA practices and intentions. Those unable to engage in certain activities were included in the analysis. The 20-item validated aging anxiety scale assessed fears of older adults, physical appearance changes, psychological issues, and fear of loss. Demographic details and body mass index (BMI) (calculated from self-reported height and weight) were collected. The data analysis, done with SAS 9.4, incorporated various statistical tests, considering significance at p < 0.05.

Study results 

Most of the study's participants were female, accounting for 62.3%, and the average age was 61.5 years. Most participants, about 73.6%, had an education beyond high school, and 67% identified as single. Approximately two-thirds earned an annual income below $50,000. Half resided in urban areas. The participants' average body mass index (BMI) was 30.2 kg/m2, with nearly three-quarters being classified as overweight or obese.

When considering aging anxiety constructs, the highest score was attributed to the fear of older adults. Other concerns followed in descending order: psychological concerns, physical appearance, and fear of loss. The total aging anxiety score among African Americans was found to be 65.44. Most participants associated PA with routine daily activities, like walking, over more structured activities, like stretching or strengthening exercises. Their attitude towards PA was more about recognizing its pros and cons than seeing it as a pleasant activity.

Gender played a role in some of the anxiety constructs. For instance, females were more concerned about psychological aspects than males. There was also a notable connection between fear of loss and factors like marital status and income; those married and with a higher income had more anxiety. Generally, female participants showed a higher mean score for aging anxiety than their male peers.

There was a correlation between the intention to exercise and specific aging anxieties. For instance, a strong intention to exercise regularly was linked with a fear of older adults. Interestingly, the overall score for aging anxiety was positively related to the intention of participating in general physical activities. Additionally, positive attitudes towards PA, like viewing it as beneficial or enjoyable, were linked with lesser fear of older adults and fewer psychological concerns.

From the study, specific insights revealed that gender and perception of PA enjoyment were significant determinants of fear towards older adults. Women were more likely than men to harbor this fear. Moreover, age played a role in concerns about physical appearance. Those in the 40-49 and 50-59 age groups were more anxious about their looks than older participants.

Engaging in strengthening exercises was tied to reduced concerns about appearance. Marital status and income were associated with fear of loss, with those earning under $20,000 annually fearing loss more than those in higher income brackets.

The study concluded by highlighting that gender and attitudes towards PA were predictors of aging anxiety. Women were more likely than men to experience this anxiety. However, positive attitudes towards PA, particularly the enjoyment derived from it, were associated with reduced levels of aging anxiety.

Vijay Kumar Malesu

Written by

Vijay Kumar Malesu

Vijay holds a Ph.D. in Biotechnology and possesses a deep passion for microbiology. His academic journey has allowed him to delve deeper into understanding the intricate world of microorganisms. Through his research and studies, he has gained expertise in various aspects of microbiology, which includes microbial genetics, microbial physiology, and microbial ecology. Vijay has six years of scientific research experience at renowned research institutes such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and KIIT University. He has worked on diverse projects in microbiology, biopolymers, and drug delivery. His contributions to these areas have provided him with a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter and the ability to tackle complex research challenges.    

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