Physical Activity and Psychological Well-Being in Older Adults

TitlePhysical Activity and Psychological Well-Being in Older Adults
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsZhang, Z
Academic DepartmentKinesiology
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy
UniversityThe University of Michigan
CityAnn Arbor, MI
KeywordsPhysical activity, psychological well-being

A growing body of research suggests that physical activity (PA) is positively associated
with psychological well-being in various populations. However, previous studies have
predominantly focused on the preventive or curative effect of PA on negative psychological
disorders, such as depression and anxiety, while largely ignored the positive psychological wellbeing, which is commonly conceptualized by two distinct dimensions, i.e., hedonic well-being
and eudaimonic well-being. Both hedonic well-being and eudaimonic well-being are predictive
of various health outcomes in older adults. Therefore, there is a need for more research to
explore the relationship between PA and psychological well-being, especially the positive
aspects of psychological well-being, in the older population. This dissertation includes three
distinct but related papers to extend our current knowledge on the relationship between PA and
psychological well-being in older adults.
In the first study, I used the longitudinal data collected at three time points from the
Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to examine the potential bidirectional relationship between
PA and purpose in life, the latter of which is a key component of eudaimonic well-being, in a
sample of 4591 older individuals. The cross-lagged panel analysis, adjusting for a range of
sociodemographic and health covariates, did not support a bidirectional relationship between PA
and purpose in life in older adults. While purpose in life was positively associated with future
vigorous-intensity PA, moderate-intensity PA, and light-intensity PA, none of the PA variables
predicted purpose in life in later time points.
The second study and the third study were based on a 12-week multicomponent
intervention conducted in older adults living in retirement communities. A total of 58
participants were voluntarily assigned to the experimental group (n =40) or the comparison
group (n=18). The intervention group attended three 45-min group exercise lessons per week and
wore a Fitbit activity tracker during the weekdays for 12 weeks combined with weekly feedback
and personalized activity goals. The second study only involved participants in the experimental
group and examined the effectiveness and acceptability of the Fitbit activity tracker for
promoting PA. Daily step counts measured by the Fitbit activity tracker indicated that
participants had an average increase of 900 steps/day from baseline to the end of the
intervention. Individual interviews and the Acceptance questionnaire suggested that the Fitbit
activity tracker was an acceptable and useful tool for older adults to self-track their PA. The third
study examined the intervention effects on life satisfaction, happiness, eudaimonic well-being,
depressive symptoms. Linear mixed models revealed that participants in the experimental group
significantly improved happiness compared to the comparison group after controlling for
baseline age and self-rated health. However, there was no difference regarding the changes in life
satisfaction, eudaimonic well-being, and depressive symptoms between the two groups.
Overall, this dissertation expands the current knowledge about the relationship between
PA and psychological well-being in older adults. Combining the results from these studies
suggests that the effect of PA on psychological well-being may differ by different components of
psychological well-being. Future research should seek to explore the mechanisms linking the
possible relationship between PA and psychological well-being, and develop more effective PA
interventions to improve psychological well-being for the older population.

Citation Key11168