Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Food Science and Human Nutrition


Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Sarah L Francis


Regular physical activity (PA) is a cornerstone of healthy aging. For older adults, specifically over the age of 65, being physically active protects against a host of health ailments, including frailty, chronic disease, sarcopenia, cognitive loss, etc. Of importance, PA helps maintain muscle, thereby allowing for maintenance of physical function and remain independent.

Study One, a qualitative study, assessed the needs, preferences, and perceptions of PA of a diverse group of older adults in Iowa (IA) and Washington, D.C. (DC). Thirteen focus groups were conducted with 118 older adults. Each completed a sociodemographic questionnaire. Focus groups were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim and analyzed for themes. Participants were diverse (White=42.4%, Black=37.3%) and mostly female (83.1%). Most (82.2%) were food secure; DC had more people categorized as food insecure (p=0.048). The majority (84.7%) rated their health as “average or higher”, and 36.4% reported a “somewhat high” PA level. About one third (38.1%) reported that they were not meeting recommendations for moderate or vigorous PA. Overall, PA motivators were health benefits and socialization; however, the health benefits mentioned varied by state. PA barriers for both states were cost, pain, low motivation, and health limitations. Differences in barriers included scheduling challenges (IA) and transportation, weather, and mood (DC). Preferred PA programs were age-appropriate, expert-led, and group-based. These findings will aid efforts for tailoring PA messaging and programming for community-residing older adults.

Study Two was a quantitative study that evaluated the health practices of older adults attending the Iowa Congregate Meal Program. Dietary intake frequencies, nutritional risk, healthy eating self-efficacy, PA perceptions and practices, and food security were assessed. Twelve meal sites across nine IA counties were surveyed, totaling 176 older adults. Participants were mostly white (91.8%), educated (89.2%), and female (67.0%). One-third (35.2%) reported having “very good” health. Most (78.5%) considered PA to be “healthy” with 37.4% being “very likely” to “perform 30 minutes of PA at least three days weekly.” Self-reported health (p=0.001) and education (p<0.0001) significantly impacted PA intentions. These findings can be utilized by community PA programs to create appropriate materials for the literacy and comprehension abilities of the audience, as well as address the general health benefits associated with PA.


Copyright Owner

Annette Elise Contrady



File Format


File Size

157 pages