Interest in Exercise for Recreation Declines with
Age, Feel Too Old for Team Sports
Boomers building muscle at
the gym but heart not in it says new Concordia study
22, 2014 - As the first generation to embrace exercise, baby boomers
continue going to the gym, yet more out of necessity than for the
challenge and enjoyment of physical activity.
In a study recently published in the
International Journal of Wellbeing, James Gavin, a professor in
Concordia’s Department of Applied Human Sciences, investigates our
motivations for exercise, from looking good to having fun. He finds that
for the baby boom generation, passion is the most important motivator -
a fact the fitness industry should embrace.
He says that once we connect with our passion,
motivation can flow backward to sustain participation in cross-training
activities: for instance a person will be keener to put in time on the
treadmill if she knows it will help her have more fun skiing in winter.
Gavin’s study surveyed 1,885 participants at YMCA
facilities across Montreal and examined responses by age group —
breaking answers down by decade, from the teens to 50 and over. Of four
major motivation categories, “toned and fit” was the top motivator in
all age groups, followed by “stress reduction.”
Yet perhaps more unexpectedly for a generation who
came of age in the era when exercise became a way of life, the two final
categories, “mental toughness” (defined as embracing activity for its
adventure and challenge) and “fun and friends” (social motivations),
both declined with increasing age.
Gavin says he’s surprised by the findings, but less
so when he surveys the scene at his local gym. “Exercise is often
perceived as a necessary evil. When I go to a gym and look around, I
don’t see a lot of excitement or laughter — people are putting in their
time almost as prisoners on their solitary workout stations. They’re
working away, and relieved when it’s over.”
Although gratified by the effects on their health,
many who are dedicated to fitness don’t experience much joy in pursuing
active lifestyles, which Gavin says is cause for concern because
eventually this lack of deep motivation may cause boomers to stop making
“What stunned me was when we think of boomers —
healthy ambulatory individuals who are reasonably robust and who
theoretically have more time on their hands — one might imagine they
would want to continue having fun and experiencing personal challenge
and growth in what they’re doing,” says Gavin.
As a contrast, he points to the excitement and
spontaneity that young children display in their physical activities.
Gavin says the results of his study propose a
challenge for the fitness industry to move away from machine-dominated
options toward personally meaningful and socially connected pursuits.
He points to activities where passion happens in
the sport itself and physical benefits are wonderful secondary outcomes.
Team sports and martial arts are clear examples — even though many older
adults mistakenly see themselves as “too old” for these activities.
“The marketing needs to be about passion, around
finding deep personal meaning in physical activity,” says Gavin. “If you
watch people playing tennis or slaloming down a hill, they’re not