The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic presents challenges for older adults who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, according to a new survey. The AARP Healthy Living survey gauges the impact that extraordinary events such as the recent COVID-19 outbreak have on older adults' cooking habits, their diet and exercise routines, and how they manage stress.
Social distancing and other responses to the pandemic have resulted in more older adults cooking their evening meals at home and eating alone. Whether eating alone or with family and friends, older adults who cook at home have more positive feelings about cooking, which may encourage them to cook meals at home and to eat a healthy diet.
Unfortunately, increasing stress during the pandemic may derail these healthy eating efforts. Some older adults report they are eating more unhealthy foods like cookies, candy, and potato chips. Those who are experiencing higher levels of stress are more likely to report this change in their eating habits. The good news is that few adults over the age of 50 report extremely high levels of stress, and many say they engage in a variety of activities to reduce stress, including exercising, streaming TV and movies, and listening to music.
This study also suggests that exercise plays a vital role in helping older adults relieve stress and related negative feelings. Regardless of exercise level (as measured by minutes of weekly exercise), older adults who maintain or increase the amount of time they exercise experience lower stress levels and fewer negative feelings such as loneliness and depression, even those who only exercise 30 minutes per week. While more exercise is usually optimal, these results suggest that whatever an older person’s exercise level, they should, at the very least, maintain that same level of activity to help manage the stress and anxiety that often accompanies extraordinary events such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
The AARP Healthy Living national survey was conducted online April 14–17, 2020, with 1,101 adults ages 50 and older who were taken from NORC at the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak probability-based sample. AmeriSpeak is designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. All data are weighted by age, gender, and race according to the most recent Census population statistics.
Some data from this study are compared to data collected through the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA). AARP is a co-sponsor of NPHA. The NPHA started in 2017 and is a recurring, nationally representative household survey of adults ages 50–80. To learn more about the NPHA, visit https://www.healthyagingpoll.org/.
Lampkin, Cheryl. 2020 Healthy Living During Extraordinary Times. Washington, DC: AARP Research, June 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00386.001.