Social support among older adults in group physical activity programs

Group physical activity programs provide opportunities for older adults to receive social support, which is known to be positively associated with physical activity behavior in this population, but further research is needed to understand how this happens. The purpose of this study was to determine the social support needs and challenges experienced by older adults participating in group physical activity programs and identify social support functions and behaviors that enabled their engagement. Using interpretive description methodology, 16 field observations of classes, eight focus group discussions, and interviews with two participants who were unable to attend focus groups were conducted with adults aged 55 and older attending programs across four recreation facilities. Analysis of the data suggested that (a) there is a need for fostering social relationships in programs, which are imperative for receiving social support. Older adults in the programs supported other participants by (b) initiating their engagement in (more) physical activity, (c) helping them sustain their engagement in physical activity, (d) assisting them with recognizing successful engagement in physical activity, and (e) providing comfort and reassurance during difficult times. Social support behaviors that target older adults’ emotional and tangible needs may be most important for promoting and sustaining physical activity. Support provided by other older adults enhanced participants’ motivation and abilities to overcome obstacles, as well as enabled them to pursue opportunities for growth in their unique physical activity journeys.
Zimmer, C. McDonough, M.J. Hewson, J., Toohey, A.M. Din, C., Crocker, P.R.E. & Bennett, E.V. (2022). Social support among older adults in group physical activity programs, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2022.2055223