Feature Article - Mature aged participation in sports and physical activities in Tasmania
Contributed by Keryn Welch, Office of Sport and Recreation
The structure of the Australian population is changing, with a trend toward ageing marking a change in participation in sport and recreation activities. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) projects a significant reduction in the proportion of the Tasmanian population in the 5-34 years age group, with proportionately higher increases in the 45 years and over age group. This is documented in the ABS publication Population Projections, Australia 1999 to 2101 (Cat. no. 3222.0).
In June 2001 there were more than 178,000 Tasmanians aged 45 years and over, representing 38% of the population. More than 14% of the population were people aged 65 years and over. The median age of the Tasmanian population (using Population Projections, Series II) is expected to increase from 36.1 years in 1999 to 41.1 years in 2011 and 53.2 years in 2051. This population group is not homogeneous; differences in general health, abilities, skill levels and activity preferences are observed between age groups and will impact on future sport and recreation program design and implementation.
Life expectancy at birth has increased for both men and women over the past 30 years. In Tasmania, based on 1998-2000 mortality experience, a 65-year-old male could expect to live a further 16.9 years on average, and a 65-year-old female a further 19.8 years. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publication 'Australia’s Health 2000' reports that from the age of 75 years both men and women experience high levels of profound or severe core activity restriction. These levels increase to over half of the population at the age 85 years and over. The main disabling conditions include arthritis, problems relating to the circulatory system, and musculoskeletal conditions.
In Tasmania, Glamorgan/Spring Bay, Break O’Day and Glenorchy local government areas (LGA) have the highest percentage of people aged 65 years and over (up to 18%).
HEALTH BENEFITS OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Involvement in physical activity for older adults, including the frail and very old, has the same benefits as it does for other age groups. Specific health issues for the older population include bone health, osteoporosis, postural stability and the risk of falling. Physical activity plays a role in both the prevention and management of many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disease, obesity, osteoporosis and some forms of arthritis. In addition, weight-bearing activity can increase mobility, independence and reduce the risk of falls.
Regular, moderate physical activity may also contribute to psychological benefits including improved mental functioning, self-confidence, and alleviation of depressive symptoms.
The Australian Sports Commission states that 'regular physical activity is associated with a 40% decreased risk of losing mobility for older people' (ACS & DVA, 2001). As a result of physical activity, quality of life is increased, fear of falling is reduced and people can live independently for longer.
As adults get older they experience muscle atrophy and bone weakening, which results in loss of function and increases the risk of injury. Evidence suggests that involvement in exercise such as walking, gardening, swimming, progressive resistance and Tai Chi can increase the metabolic rate, muscle strength and balance and substantially reduce the risks of injury. The end result is increased quality of life.
The key group where risk factors for high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight and physical inactivity markedly increase is 45-54 year olds. Therefore in the ten, or even twenty years preceding this age group, awareness of the dangers of inactivity, poor dietary and lifestyle choices must be a priority for sport and recreation advocates.
PARTICIPATION IN SPORT AND RECREATION
The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians produced by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing recommends that all Australians participate in at least thirty minutes moderate intensity physical activity every or most days.
Participation in sport and recreational activities decreases with age, both in the number of people participating and in the rate of participation. The highest participation rates are in the 18-24 years age group, and the lowest in the 65 years and over population. This pattern occurs in nearly all States.
The ABS publication Participation in Sport and Physical Activities, Australia 1999-2000 (Cat. no. 4177.0) revealed that 30.7% of Tasmanians aged 65 and over participate in sport and physical activities in contrast to 68.9% aged 18-24. The second lowest participation rate was recorded for the 45-54 and 55-64 age groups. These figures were lower than the national average.
Male participation rates in Tasmania were generally higher than female participation rates with the exception of the 18-24 and 45-54 age groups. The overall male participation rate (53.3%) was higher than the overall female participation rate (49.5%).
The greatest difference between male and female participation rates was found in the 65 and over age group where only 26.0% of women participated in contrast to 37.0% of men. The participation rates for women aged 35-44 years and for men aged 45-54 years were the lowest in the country.
PREFERRED TYPES OF PARTICIPATION
In 1999-2000 the Office of Sport and Recreation (OSR) conducted a voluntary study on participation in sport and recreation activities in Tasmania. The purpose of this study was to observe and document the physical activity levels and preferences of Tasmanians, the frequency of participation and the factors contributing to the choices people make.
The OSR survey revealed that the four most popular activities for people aged 65 and over were recreational walking, lawn/indoor bowls, fishing and golf. For people aged 55-64 the four most popular activities were recreational walking, fishing, swimming/diving and golf. Similarly for people aged 45-54 years and over recreational walking, fishing, swimming and bushwalking were popular. These findings were consistent with ABS data.
The main motivations for participating in sport and recreation activities for people aged 45 and over were fitness/health/exercise and fun and enjoyment. Further, the main reason for discontinuing activity for people aged 45 and over was due to age, the second most frequent reason was ill health for people aged 55 and over, and no time for people aged 45-54.
This study revealed that the main reasons for discontinuing activity for people aged 55 and over were age and ill health. People aged 45-55 identified age and a lack of time as their main reasons for discontinuing activity.
Although nationally there has been a decrease in participation in organised activities (e.g. sport) it appears that the older age groups prefer to participate in sporting activities, although a large percentage of these people were not members of formal clubs or associations.
A study on exercise adherence identified that older adults who adhere to exercise prescriptions were usually '… individuals who were in better physical condition at baseline, had a history of a physically active lifestyle, were non-smokers, and had higher exercise self-efficacy' (Martin and Sinden, 2001). These findings were consistent with the findings of similar studies on younger adults.
It is well documented that interventions that increase the levels of moderate intensity activity and building muscle strength and flexibility in older adults have positive effects on general health and wellbeing. The recent article 'Getting Australia active: towards better practice for the promotion of physical activity' suggests the following interventions for our older population, including people classified as frail and very old:
- longer duration of activity to achieve metabolic and body composition changes such as one hour of walking, swimming or gentle exercise three times each week;
- gentle exercise such as Tai Chi combined with household work such as walking and gardening can improve muscle strength and balance;
- strength training may be an important adjunct to aerobic exercise for people who have not had to use muscle strength over the years; and
Sport and recreation service providers need to design accessible, affordable and flexible opportunities that are tailored to meet the needs of this population group. Emerging issues for the sport and recreation industry include:
- activity modifications may need to be made for people with mobility problems, arthritis, dementia and visual impairment.
- developing activities aimed at meeting the needs of the mature market, including masters sports;
- providing convenient ways of accessing facilities through cost considerations and transport;
- encouraging the creation of sport and recreation opportunities;
- avoiding stereotyping of older people in the media;
- acknowledging and encouraging involvement in volunteer activities; and
Demography, Tasmania, 2000 (3311.6).
Participation in Sport and Physical Activities, Australia, 1999-2000 (4177.0).
Population by Age and Sex for Australian States and Territories, 2001 (3201.0).
Population Projections, Australia 1999 to 2101 (3222.0).
AIHW 2000, Australia’s Health 2000.
Australian Sports Commission and Department of Veterans’ Affairs 2001, Older, smarter, fitter: a guide for providers of sport and physical activity programs for older Australians. ASC 2001.
Bauman A. Bellow B. Vita P. Brown W. Owen N., Getting Australia active: towards better practice for the promotion of physical activity, National Public Health Partnership, Melbourne, March, 2002.
Martin.K., Sinden. A., 2001, ' Who will stay and who will go? A review of older adults’ adherence to randomized controlled trials of exercise', Journal of Ageing and Physical Activity, Vol 9, pp. 91-114, U.S., Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.
- continuing nutritional and healthy lifestyle promotions.