gms | German Medical Science

Physical activity and successful aging
10th International EGREPA Conference

European Group for Research into Elderly and Physical Activity

14.09. - 16.09.2006 in Köln

Physical activity of the elderly – a question of gender?

Meeting Abstract

  • corresponding author I. Hartmann-Tews - German Sport University Cologne, Germany
  • C. Combrink - German Sport University Cologne, Germany
  • U. Tischer - German Sport University Cologne, Germany

Physical activity and successful aging. Xth International EGREPA Conference. Cologne, 14.-16.09.2006. Düsseldorf, Köln: German Medical Science; 2006. Doc06pasa069

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published: December 18, 2006

© 2006 Hartmann-Tews et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.



There have been two social trends over the past decades: a demographic change towards an ageing society on the one hand and a so-called sportification of society on the other hand. Both developments have evolved independently from each other but are at the same time related to each other: A healthy and active lifestyle becomes even more important – individually and at the aggregate level of society - when people grow older.

Objective and central question

The question we want to raise and answer is whether older people (aged 55+) are part of the process of sportification, and if gender and age(ing) play a role a) for the individual to start or continue with physical activities and sport and b) for the organisations to offer physical activities and sport. Our research design intends to generate knowledge about the normative and evaluative value structure of the trias of age(ing), gender and sport and their relation to the demand and supply of physical activities and sport. Thus we try to shed light on the material and immaterial frame of involvement in sport in old age.


The theoretical background of our empirical study is twofold. The central theoretical framework is informed by structuralistic approaches including agency i.e. theories that take structure and agency as recursively related. Within the societal structure culture has a prominent status as ideas and norms provide a frame of action for people. The role and influence of culture within this general framework will be analysed via theories of social construction of gender and age(ing).


The project is based on a variety of methods:

Secondary analysis of data sets (SOEP, Alterssurvey; Gesundheitssurvey)
Intensive interviews with elder people between 55 and 80 years old (N=30), [men/women; involved or not involved in physical activities and sport]
A representative survey of the population aged 55–60 and 75-80 of Cologne (N=500)
Intensive interviews with decision-makers of institutions (N=15) that either do or do not offer opportunities (or special classes and courses) for elder people to exercise. [sports clubs, fitness centres and organisations of further education]


The research is ongoing (Oct. 2005 – Dec. 2006) and first results of phase a to c can be presented. Research literature and secondary data anlysis indicate that older people are part of the sportification process: Over the past twenty years the proportion of elder people being involved in physical activities and sport has risen significantly. The traditional proposition: ‘the older people are the less they are involved in physical activities and sport’ has to be revised when analysing longitudianal data sets. The traditional significant gender gap in favour of men – more men participating more intensively in sport than women – can not be verified for elder people.