Physical Activity Among Older Adults Must be Promoted, Says GSA Member in Senate Testimony

Author  Todd Kluss

Speaking today at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, University of Illinois at Chicago professor Susan L. Hughes, DSW, FGSA, told lawmakers that “physical activity matters and is essential for healthy aging” and should be made a “top national priority for older adults.” She additionally called for the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, citing its importance in “maintaining and accelerating advances in healthy aging.”

Hughes is a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is also director of the Center for Research on Health and Aging and director of the Midwest Roybal Center for Health Promomotion and Translation in the Institute for Health Research and Policy. She is a long-standing member of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA).

At the hearing, which was titled “Promoting Healthy Aging: Living Your Best Life Long into Your Golden Years,” she shared that the fact that the benefits of physical activity are well understood among professionals who care for older adults, yet levels of engagement in exercise within this population segment “are still sub-optimal.”

“We need to make exercise easy, we need to make engagement in physical activity a cultural norm, and we need to start early,” Hughes said in her testimony. “We need to use a life-course perspective wherein engagement in physical activity is encouraged at every stage of life starting with toddlers; this effort involves a culture shift that is starting to happen and should be supported every step of the way.”

Hughes shared the successes of Fit and Strong!, an award-winning, evidence-based physical activity/behavior change program she designed for older adults with lower extremity osteoarthritis. Participation the program has been associated with diminished joint pain, improved joint function, improved mobility and strength, as well as improved anxiety and depression.

She said more research was needed to address the myriad reasons why older adults are sedentary. Hughes also called for an ongoing campaign to combat inactivity, which would make older adults aware that even simple activities such as moving from one room to another or using stairs are a “huge improvement over sedentary behavior.”

Hughes concluded by telling committee members that they could play a significant role in elevating the importance of physical activity at a national level.

“The best way to do this is to build on and expand our network of proven programs and increase access to them,” she said. “For this reason, I urge you strongly to support the reauthorization the Older Americans Act and increase funding for Title III D with possible new set-aside funds for evidence based physical activity programs in the future.”

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