2022-03-11Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2022.825454
No Evidence for a Boost in Psychosocial Functioning in Older Age After a 6-Months Physical Exercise Intervention
The beneficial effects of physical exercise on physical health and cognitive functioning have been repeatedly shown. However, evidence of its effect on psychosocial functioning in healthy adults is still scarce or inconclusive. One limitation of many studies examining this link is their reliance on correlational approaches or specific subpopulations, such as clinical populations. The present study investigated the effects of a physical exercise intervention on key factors of psychosocial functioning, specifically well-being, stress, loneliness, and future time perspective. We used data from healthy, previously sedentary older adults (N = 132) who participated in a 6-month at-home intervention, either engaging in aerobic exercise or as part of a control group who participated in foreign language-learning or reading of selected native-language literature. Before and after the intervention, comprehensive cardiovascular pulmonary testing and a psychosocial questionnaire were administered. The exercise group showed significantly increased fitness compared to the control group. Contrary to expectations, however, we did not find evidence for a beneficial effect of this fitness improvement on any of the four domains of psychosocial functioning we assessed. This may be due to pronounced stability of such psychological traits in older age, especially in older adults who show high levels of well-being initially. Alternatively, it may be that the well-documented beneficial effects of physical exercise on brain structure and function, as well as cognition differ markedly from beneficial effects on psychosocial functioning. While aerobic exercise may be the driving factor for the former, positive effects on the latter may only be invoked by other aspects of exercise, for example, experiences of mastery or a feeling of community.