Physical activity participation by presence and type of functional deficits in older women: The women's health and aging studies

Gerald J. Jerome, Thomas A. Glass, Michelle Mielke, Qian Li Xue, Ross E. Andersen, Linda P. Fried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background. Physical activity is important for maintaining functional independence of older persons, especially for those with existing functional deficits. Since such deficits may pose barriers to activity, it would be instructive to examine activity patterns in relation to specific types of deficits to determine the amount and type of physical activity older women pursue. This study sought to identify categories of functional deficits associated with activity levels and evaluated the potential for older women to increase their physical activity levels. Methods. Community-dwelling women, aged 70-79 years, from the Women's Health and Aging Studies I and II (N = 710), were assessed for self-reported physical activity, functional deficits and chronic conditions, along with objective measures of muscle strength. Both type (household chores, exercise, and recreational activity) and amount of physical activity (min/wk) were examined. Meeting physical activity recommendations was defined as ≥150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity, and inactivity was defined as no weekly moderate intensity physical activity. Hierarchical categories of functional deficits were based on self-reported difficulty in four functional domains (i.e., mobility/exercise tolerance, upper extremity, higher functioning, and self-care), and self-reports ranged from no difficulty to difficulty in all four domains. Results. The prevalence of inactivity and meeting activity recommendations were 14.4% and 12.7%, respectively. Severity of functional deficits was associated with increased risk of inactivity (adjusted odds ratios [ORsadj] = 3.14-17.61) and reduced likelihood of meeting activity recommendations (ORsadj = .11-.40). Even among those with higher functioning or self-care difficulties, 30% reported walking for exercise. Conclusion. There was evidence that older women with functional deficits can remain physically active. However, for some of these women, meeting the recommended levels of activity may be unrealistic. Efforts to increase physical activity levels among older adults should include treatment or management of functional deficits, chronic conditions, and poor strength.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1171-1176
Number of pages6
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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