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Hispanic Elders and Physical Fitness

New America Media, Paul Kleyman Posted: Feb 06, 2009

In a recent report, "Beyond Salsa Dancing: Promoting Physical Activity for Hispanic Elders," aging and fitness expert Marilynn Larkin, cautions on simply translating physical activity programs from English to Spanish. It doesn't work.

The article, which appeared in the Journal of Active Aging (November-December 2008), a publication of the International Council of Active Aging or ICAA emphasizes that today about 5 million Latinos who are 50 years old or older live in the United States, a number projected to triple in the next 25 years.

Larkin says research indicates that U.S. Latinos actually live longer than non-Hispanic whites but they have higher levels of chronic illnesses such as diabetes. She quotes Yanira Cruz, president and CEO of the National Council on Hispanic Aging, who said healthcare providers need to stress physical activity, a key to preventing health problems.

Cruz advises exercise companies and nonprofits to avoid a cookie-cutter approach. One successful program for whites flopped when the material and approach was merely translated into Spanish. Program developers need to heed that there are differences even within the diverse Latino cultures. For example, salsa dancing, which has roots in the Caribbean is popular in the Northeast. But that is not the case in Texas, where Latino music and dance have Mexican roots.

The article quotes Jane Delgado, who heads the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, who says that cultural competence is not enough; cultural proficiency is the key to success. Delgado, author of the 2002 book "Salud: A Latina's Guide to Total Health," says "cultural proficiency is when you don't just understand the differences among cultures, but you also value them... People who successfully market to Hispanics are culturally proficient."

The article goes on to discuss the do's and don'ts of language: "anti-aging" doesn't translate, said Delgado, because Latino culture is not against aging. So marketers should use a term like "anti-wrinkling." The piece also focuses on making exercise feel accessible and achievable for Latino consumers, and it profiles model programs in cities such as New York City, Milwaukee, Alamo and San Diego.

By special arrangement with ICAA, readers of the NAM Elders Newsbeat blog are invited to read the full article here.

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