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Determinants of physical activity and exercise in healthy older adults: A systematic review

Margot A Koeneman12*, Marieke W Verheijden13*, Mai J M Chinapaw12 and Marijke Hopman-Rock123

Author Affiliations

1 Body@Work, Research Center for Physical Activity, Work and Health, TNO-VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 TNO, Leiden, The Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:142  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-142

Published: 28 December 2011



The health benefits of regular physical activity and exercise have been widely acknowledged. Unfortunately, a decline in physical activity is observed in older adults. Knowledge of the determinants of physical activity (unstructured activity incorporated in daily life) and exercise (structured, planned and repetitive activities) is needed to effectively promote an active lifestyle. Our aim was to systematically review determinants of physical activity and exercise participation among healthy older adults, considering the methodological quality of the included studies.


Literature searches were conducted in PubMed/Medline and PsycINFO/OVID for peer reviewed manuscripts published in English from 1990 onwards. We included manuscripts that met the following criteria: 1) population: community dwelling healthy older adults, aged 55 and over; 2) reporting determinants of physical activity or exercise. The outcome measure was qualified as physical activity, exercise, or combination of the two, measured objectively or using self-report. The methodological quality of the selected studies was examined and a best evidence synthesis was applied to assess the association of the determinants with physical activity or exercise.


Thirty-four manuscripts reporting on 30 studies met the inclusion criteria, of which two were of high methodological quality. Physical activity was reported in four manuscripts, exercise was reported in sixteen and a combination of the two was reported in fourteen manuscripts. Three manuscripts used objective measures, twenty-two manuscripts used self-report measures and nine manuscripts combined a self-report measure with an objective measure. Due to lack of high quality studies and often only one manuscript reporting on a particular determinant, we concluded "insufficient evidence" for most associations between determinants and physical activity or exercise.


Because physical activity was reported in four manuscripts only, the determinants of physical activity particularly need further study. Recommendations for future research include the use of objective measures of physical activity or exercise as well as valid and reliable measures of determinants.

Prevention; Behaviour change; Determinants; Active lifestyle; Aged