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Physical activity and healthy ageing: A mixed methods study of the factors influencing older people's physical activity decisions and behaviours


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Hetherington, SA (2012) Physical activity and healthy ageing: A mixed methods study of the factors influencing older people's physical activity decisions and behaviours. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Despite the many health benefits that accrue from regular participation in physical activity up
to 50 percent of people over 65 years of age are reported to be inadequately physically
active to realise these benefits. The aim in the present thesis was to use a mixed methods
approach to better understand the complex array of environmental, social and individual
factors that contribute to older people’s physical activity behaviours. This approach enabled
the refinement of a health action model that depicted these factors and their likely
associations and the exploration of ways in which physical activity might be encouraged and
supported in this population.
Two hundred and twenty three participants (82 ± 7 years old) from six residential locations in
Northern Tasmania completed a physical activity survey that assessed their level of physical
activity, their perceptions of activity and the degree of social support for activity they
received. Twenty people were selected for face-to-face interviews to explore in-depth the
complex phenomenon of ageing and physical activity.
Survey results indicated that the percentage of inadequately physically active participants
was significantly lower than reported in the extant literature. This finding raises important
questions about the way in which older people’s activity levels are currently assessed.
Interest in, perceived importance and utility of physical activity were high and positively
associated with activity level, while the perceived amount of effort it took to be active was
negatively associated with activity level. The least active quartile of survey participants
reported significantly higher effort associated with being active.
Thematic analysis of interview data revealed the main barriers to activity to be injury or
illness, a lack of competence and lack of time. Interviewees described their main motivations
as being the support of enthusiastic others, being fully engaged in activities and having fun
while being active. A refined health action model is posited based on the survey and
interview findings which, by providing greater insight into the factors influencing physical activity behaviours, supported the redistribution of barriers and motivators from a single
factor to individual and specific factors. Enhanced social engagement positively influences
multiple factors within the model and presents an important intervention point for changing
people’s behaviours.
The findings from the present thesis suggest that to increase participation by older people in
regular physical activity exercise and health professionals need to utilise techniques that
promote and support engagement. Theories such as adult play and reversal theory provide
insights into how activity leaders might maximise engagement and enable participants to
experience the arousal associated with activities as challenging, exciting and safe and to
overcome anxieties associated with a fear of failure or fear of injury. Finally, techniques such
as motivational interviewing and acceptance and commitment therapy can be incorporated
into discussions around physical activity to resolve ambivalence and explore opportunities
for self-managed change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: older people, physical activity
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Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2012 03:12
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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