Older adults who have a strong relationship with a life partner or close friends are more likely to engage in regular physical activity, report investigators.

The study reviewed data from about 1,200 adults ages 65 to 74 in middle-income countries. The researchers examined the factors that influenced whether participants adhered to 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous walking. 

Individual and interpersonal variables were linked to meeting physical activity guidelines, they found. Notably, female participants and all participants with depression were less likely to engage in regular physical activity. Walking, however, has been shown to protect against depression symptoms. 

“These results are important because they reinforce that relationships are key to influencing positive health behaviors, including physical activity,” said Catherine Pirkle, Ph.D., from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, and colleagues.

The findings are particularly meaningful now, she added. 

“In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical not to forget the importance of social relationships and maintaining physical activity to reduce chronic disease and premature death,” Pirkle said. “Older adults who experience social isolation are at greater risk of depression, cognitive decline and other poor health outcomes.”

Higher educational attainment was also linked to greater participation in physical activity. 

The study was published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.