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Open Access Research

Do major life events influence physical activity among older adults: the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam

Margot A Koeneman12, Mai JM Chinapaw12*, Marieke W Verheijden13, Theo G van Tilburg4, Marjolein Visser56, Dorly JH Deeg6 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 and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, P.O. Box 7057, 1007, MB, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 TNO The Netherlands organisation for applied scientific research, expertise center lifestyle, Leiden, The Netherlands

4 Department of Sociology, VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

5 Department of Health Sciences, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

6 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:147  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-147

Published: 17 December 2012



Major life events are associated with a change in daily routine and could thus also affect habitual levels of physical activity. Major life events remain largely unexplored as determinants of older adults’ participation in physical activity and sports. This study focused on two major life events, widowhood and retirement, and asked whether these major life events were associated with moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and sports participation.


Data from the first (1992–93) and second (1995–96) wave of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA), a prospective cohort study among Dutch adults aged 55 and older, were used. Change in marital status and employment status between baseline and follow-up was assessed by self-report. Time spent in MVPA (min/d) and sports participation (yes/no) was calculated based on the LASA Physical Activity Questionnaire. The association of retirement and widowhood with MVPA and sports participation was assessed in separate multivariate linear and logistic regression analyses, respectively.


Widowhood - N=136 versus 1324 stable married- was not associated with MVPA (B= 3.5 [95%CI:-57.9;64.9]) or sports participation (OR= 0.8 [95%CI:0.5;1.3]). Retired participants (N= 65) significantly increased their time spent in MVPA (B= 32.5 [95%CI:17.8;47.1]) compared to participants who continued to be employed (N= 121), but not their sports participation. Age was a significant effect modifier (B= 7.5 [90%CI:-1.1;13.8]), indicating a greater increase in MVPA in older retirees.


Our results suggest that the associations found varied by the two major life events under investigation. MVPA increased after retirement, but no association with widowhood was seen.