Challenging Aging Stereotypes

Strategies for Creating a More Active Society

Ageism remains a pervasive and potentially damaging source of stereotyping in the United States. In fact, evidence suggests that myths about aging impact the frequency with which health promotion and disease prevention information is targeted towards older people. Even research has historically excluded older people from studies examining the potential for benefits of interventions in a range of health areas. This article reports the findings of a consumer market research plan, which was specifically targeted to older people, to identify strategies, barriers and opportunities for community and individual physical activity behavior change. AARP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaborated in this research effort. The data collected from focus groups in this study suggests that messages promoting physical activity among older adults are successful if: (1) they feature ordinary people doing ordinary things; (2) they provide concrete information like directions and guidance; (3) they are specific about goals and strategies; (4) they recognize the obstacles that people face and (5) they use motivators like family to deliver their message. Conversely, messages are unsuccessful if: (1) they make exercise look like hard work; (2) use the phrases "exercise" and "fitness" because of the connotations those words carry; (3) they play the age card by suggesting that the viewer "isn't getting any younger" and (4) they are confrontational or domineering. Based on these qualitative findings, the authors suggest several strategies that may contribute to a healthier older population. For instance, they suggest public awareness campaigns that stress positive images of aging to change societal perceptions of older adults.