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COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Are rural older Icelanders less physically active than those living in urban areas? A population-based study

Solveig A Arnadottir, Elin D Gunnarsdottir, Lillemor Lundin-Olsson
Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 2009, 37 (4): 409-17
19237433

BACKGROUND: Older people in rural areas have been labelled as physically inactive on the basis of leisure-time physical activity research. However, more research is needed to understand the total physical activity pattern in older adults, considering all domains of physical activity, including leisure, work, and domestic life.

AIMS: We hypothesised that: (a) total physical activity would be the same for older people in urban and rural areas; and (b) urban and rural residency, along with gender and age, would be associated with differences in domain-specific physical activities.

METHODS: Cross-sectional data were collected in Icelandic rural and urban communities from June through to September 2004. Participants were randomly selected, community-dwelling, 65-88 years old, and comprised 68 rural (40% females) and 118 urban (53% females) adults. The Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly (PASE) was used to obtain a total physical activity score and subscores in leisure, during domestic life, and at work.

RESULTS: The total PASE score was not associated with rural vs. urban residency, but males were, in total, more physically active than females, and the 65-74-year-olds were more active than the 75-88-year-olds. In the leisure domain, rural people had lower physical activity scores than urban people. Rural males were, however, most likely of all to be physically active in the work domain. In both urban and rural areas, the majority of the physical activity behaviour occurred in relation to housework, with the rural females receiving the highest scores.

CONCLUSIONS: Older Icelanders in rural areas should not be labelled as less physically active than those who live in urban areas. Urban vs. rural living may, however, influence the physical activity patterns among older people, even within a fairly socioeconomically and culturally homogeneous country such as Iceland. This reinforces the need to pay closer attention to the living environment when studying and developing strategies to promote physical activity.

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