Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for older adults: a review

Am J Prev Med. 2002 Feb;22(2):120-33. doi: 10.1016/s0749-3797(01)00413-5.


Objective: This review evaluates the effectiveness of physical activity interventions among older adults.

Methods: Computerized searches were performed to identify randomized controlled trials. Studies were included if: (1) the study population consisted of older adults (average sample population age of > or =50 years and minimum age of 40 years); (2) the intervention consisted of an exercise program or was aimed at promoting physical activity; and (3) reported on participation (i.e., adherence/compliance) or changes in level of physical activity (e.g., pre-post test measures and group comparisons).

Results: The 38 studies included 57 physical activity interventions. Three types of interventions were identified: home-based, group-based, and educational. In the short-term, both home-based interventions and group-based interventions achieved high rates of participation (means of 90% and 84%, respectively). Participation declined the longer the duration of the intervention. Participation in education interventions varied widely (range of 35% to 96%). Both group-based interventions and education interventions were effective in increasing physical activity levels in the short-term. Information on long-term effectiveness was either absent or showed no difference of physical activity level between the study groups.

Conclusions: Home-based, group-based, and educational physical activity interventions can result in increased physical activity, but changes are small and short-lived. Participation rates of home-based and group-based interventions were comparable, and both seemed to be unrelated to type or frequency of physical activity. The beneficial effect of behavioral reinforcement strategies was not evident. Comparative studies evaluating the effectiveness of diverse interventions are needed to identify the interventions most likely to succeed in the initiation and maintenance of physical activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Sensitivity and Specificity