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The Gerontologist 45:667-675 (2005)
© 2005 The Gerontological Society of America

Characteristics of Physical Activity Programs for Older Adults: Results of a Multisite Survey

Susan L. Hughes, DSW1, Barbara Williams, PhD2, Lourdes C. Molina, MPH1, Constance Bayles, PhD3, Lucinda L. Bryant, PhD, MHSA4, Jeffrey R. Harris, MD, MPH2, Rebecca Hunter, MEd5, Susan Ivey, MD, MHSA6 and Ken Watkins, PhD7

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Susan L. Hughes, DSW, Center for Research on Health and Aging, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1747 W. Roosevelt Road, Room 558, M/C 275, Chicago, IL 60608. E-mail: shughes{at}

Purpose: Although increased participation in physical activity by older adults is a major public health goal, little is known about the supply and use of physical activity programs in the United States. Design and Methods: Seven academic centers in diverse geographic areas surveyed physical activity programs for older adults. Five sites conducted surveys by mail with telephone follow-up, and two administered surveys primarily by telephone. Reported program attendance rates were compared with local census data to assess unmet needs. Results: Of the 2,110 targeted facilities, 77% responded. Aerobic programs were offered by 73%, flexibility by 47%, and strength training by 26%. Commercial gyms or YMCAs, senior centers, park or recreation centers, and senior-housing facilities offered 90% of available programs. The 2000 Census enumerated 1,123,401 total older adults across the seven sites. Facilities reported 69,634 individuals as current weekly program participants, equaling 6% of the sites' total older-adult population. This percentage varied from 3% in Pittsburgh to 28% in Colorado. Implications: Based on conservative estimates of demand, the number of physical activity programs would have to increase substantially (by 78%) to meet the needs of older adults. The data also indicate the need to develop more strength-training programs and to engage a higher percentage of older adults in these programs. There is a clear need to stimulate demand for programs through health promotion.

Key Words: Exercise • Needs and demand • Providers • Facilities

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Copyright © 2005 by The Gerontological Society of America.