Physical activity and exercise in social context

Physical activity and moving our bodies is one of the best things we can do to remain well as we age. Physical activity has many benefits including decreasing our risk of chronic disease, disability and falls, improving our physical function, social connectedness, mental health and our overall wellbeing.  

Society places pressure on us and makes us feel like we need to exercise to look a certain way. For many of us, this can impact our self-esteem and body image (see section on body image), negatively impacting our desire to participate in physical activity.

We want to highlight that physical activity is far from this: the focus shouldn’t be on how we look. It’s about improving our health and wellbeing and having fun and staying connected while we do it. It comes in many different forms, from dancing, walking in a park, or playing a team sport, to gardening, doing household chores and participating in community groups.

Watch this video from Exercise Right, which discusses the importance of exercising for good mental health.

Women face additional challenges to being physically active as we age, and this is reflected in the data: in Australia, 39% of women over 55 years and 53% of women over 65 years do not participate in regular physical activity. Evidence shows that participation in sport and physical activity declines as we get older. 

It’s important to understand that the reasons behind this are caused by societal issues and gender inequalities. Women are more likely to have greater caring responsibilities, which means a lack of time or energy to participate in physical activity. Women are more likely to be reluctant to participate in physical activity due to a fear of judgement, being body shamed or feeling embarrassed. There are barriers to inclusion in public places that include women’s perceptions of safety – such as sexual harassment and threats of sexual violence, as well as a lack of sporting facilities that are inclusive of women and trans and gender diverse people. 

These societal and systemic barriers prevent women from being able to freely take part in physical activities. This needs to be addressed by governments through policy change to create equitable opportunities for women and trans and gender diverse people to participate fully in physical activity.   

Illustration in physical activity in a social context

I have constantly struggled to have a healthy relationship to exercise. To shift my mind from focusing on losing weight, or even gaining muscle, to exercising for happiness. To have the feeling of accomplishment and the ability to see the lengths to which my body can go and to be reminded that I am alive and well and capable of doing incredible things physically. 

Finding Nevo, Nevo Zisin 


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