Over time, a consensus has been reached by researchers that perceptions of aging are linked to health outcomes in older adults, including their physical functioning. A recent study that earned a 2018 Bronze Mather LifeWays Innovative Research on Aging Award took a fresh look at the role of leisure activity engagement and positive affect in the relationship between perceptions of aging and direct health outcomes.
Using data from 5,194 participants in the German Ageing Survey, the researchers examined responses to measures that looked at self-assessed health, self-reported limitations on 10 physical activities, positive perceptions of aging, engagement in 14 leisure activities, and positive affect over the past few months.
Consistent with past research, the analyses showed that more positive perceptions of aging were related to better self-reported health and fewer physical limitations. Results also showed that leisure activity and positive affect both partially explain the relationship with subjective health, but only leisure activity explains the relationship with physical limitations. In other words, older adults who have more positive perceptions of aging tend to report better subjective health because they have more positive affect and engage in more leisure activities. But it is only because they report more engagement in leisure activities that they have fewer physical limitations.
This study helped explain why there is a relationship between perceptions of aging and health outcomes. (Unlike previous research, the researchers also found evidence of this relationship for middle-age adults and used a culturally diverse sample.) However, as in previous research, mixed results on the effects of leisure activity engagement and positive affect were found. So, ironically, setting out to clear confusion about the two mediators in question seems to have raised additional questions. Future research is needed to see if this is culturally generalizable since data was used from German older adults.
Hicks SA, & Siedlecki KL. Leisure activity engagement and positive affect partially mediate the relationship between positive views on aging and physical health. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B (2017); 72(2): 259-267.