Background: Little is known regarding the dynamics of elderly persons' participation in health promotion programs. We studied factors influencing the participation of 337 sedentary elderly persons in an exercise promotion session. All study participants were members of a health maintenance organization.
Methods: Baseline data were obtained on 337 persons age 65 and older who exercised irregularly or not at all. These individuals were then offered a class emphasizing individualized exercise activities for elderly persons. Participation in the exercise program was used as the dependent variable, and the baseline data were analyzed to identify factors associated with participation.
Results: There was no difference between participants and nonparticipants for age and sex. Baseline physical activity, as measured by the Paffenbarger index and self-report of physical activity, also did not differentiate participants from nonparticipants, nor did frequency of self-reported medical conditions. Participants were more likely to be nonsmokers, but the two groups did not differ with respect to other preventive health practices. Participants were characterized by more social interactions, as reflected by attendance at at least two meetings per month. Participants also were more likely to report three or more close friends. Perceived quality of life and self-reported health status were not significantly different between the two groups. Participants rated their current health slightly worse than nonparticipants. In a logistic regression model controlling for age and sex, lower current health perceptions, greater number of friends, prior expressed intent to participate in an exercise program, being a nonsmoker, and having received an influenza vaccination in the past year were significantly associated with participation.
Conclusions: Participation in this exercise program may have appealed to persons with higher levels of social interaction. In this population, age, sex, and the number and type of self-reported medical conditions at baseline were not predictive of participation.