updated 3/22/2007 6:23:56 PM ET 2007-03-22T22:23:56

Older people would rather exercise alone than be surrounded by a bunch of youthful hard bodies in Spandex, suggests a study that examined how group fitness appeals to people of different ages.

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The results are a cautionary note about providing the right exercise setting for senior citizens, said University of British Columbia researcher Mark Beauchamp.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that a far greater proportion of people actually prefer to exercise alone with some instruction” rather than in a class, his study found.

Beauchamp, who works in UBC’s School of Human Kinetics, said researchers found that people of all ages generally prefer to exercise with people their own age — or they may opt to go it alone. He noted that older people may be intimidated by “the Spandex-clad ideal” seen in some exercise environments.

Researchers studied the behaviors of 947 people, ranging in age from 30 to 92, in the northern English city of Leeds.

When people in their 30s and 40s were asked how they’d feel about exercising with twentysomethings, they responded positively. Not so for those 50 and up, the study found.

When people in their 60s and 70s were asked about exercising with those their same age, they reacted positively, while those in the other age groups were more negative about that prospect.

“All this study highlights is older adults can exercise in environments that are socially supportive,” when given the right setting, Beauchamp said.

The study is to be published in the April issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Barbara Resnick, an expert in geriatric exercise and motivation at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, said the study makes clear the importance of environment in getting older adults to exercise.

“There are many individuals who enjoy exercising with others, and surveys have confirmed that they enjoy exercising in formats which are Spandex-free and among others their own age and ability level,” Resnick said. “Conversely, there are some older individuals who choose to exercise alone” with a variety of options, such as outdoors, she said.

Resnick said it’s important for governments to promote physical activity both through community centers and through walking trails and other outdoor options.

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