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Consistency in Physical Activity and Increase in Mental Health in Elderly over a Decade: Are We Achieving Better Population Health?

1 Department of Community Health, School of Health and Human Services, National University, 3678 Aero Court, San Diego, CA 92123, USA
2 University of California, San Diego, USA

Special Issues: Activity and Lifestyle factors in the elderly: Its relationship with Degenerative diseases and Depression

Objective: Over the past century, advances in medicine and public health have resulted in an extraordinary increase in life expectancy. As a result, focus has shifted from infectious to chronic diseases. Though current guidelines for healthy behaviors among the elderly exist, it remains unclear whether this growing segment of the population has shifted their behaviors in response to public health campaigns. The objective of this study was to investigate mental health and physical activity trends that may be leading indicators for healthier living and increased life expectancy. Methods: Using nearly a decade of continuous serial cross-sectional data collected in the nationwide Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, this study investigated trends of health behaviors and mental health in a population of nearly 750,000 who were 65 or older from 2003 through 2011. Weighted univariate and multivariable analyses were utilized including investigation of trend analyses over the decade, producing adjusted annual odds of physical activity and mental health. Results: After controlling for demographic and other factors, higher education and income, lower BMI, and current or previous smoking was associated with higher odds of adverse mental health and lower odds of physical activity engagement. Adjusted odds of adverse mental health climbed over the decade of observation whereas the odds of physical activity remained static. Conclusions: These data, encompassing a very large population over a decade of time, suggest that physical activity is stable though mental health challenges are on the rise in this older population. Public health campaigns may face greater barriers in an elderly population due to lifelong habits, dissemination and educational approaches, or decreasing gains. Further research should be conducted to identify more effective approaches towards increasing physical activity in this important and growing subset of the population and towards transforming behaviors earlier in life.
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