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BACKGROUND: The health benefits of physical activity (PA) participation in later life are widely recognised. Understanding factors that can influence the participation of community-dwelling older adults in PA is crucial in an ageing society. This will be paramount in aiding the design of future interventions to effectively promote PA in this population. The main aim of this qualitative study was to explore influences on PA among community-dwelling older people, and the secondary aim was to explore gender differences. METHODS: Qualitative data were collected in 2014 by conducting focus group discussions using a semi-structured discussion guide with older people resident in Hertfordshire, UK. Discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and transcripts analysed thematically. RESULTS: Ninety-two participants were recruited to the study (47% women; 74-83 years) and a total of 11 focus groups were conducted. Findings indicated six themes that appeared to affect older adults' participation in PA: past life experiences; significant life events; getting older; PA environment; psychological/personal factors; and social capital. Overall, the findings emphasised the role of modifiable factors, namely psychological factors (such as self-efficacy, motivation, outcome expectancy) and social factors (such as social support and social engagement). These factors exerted their own influence on physical activity participation, but also appeared to mediate the effect of other largely non-modifiable background and ageing-related factors on participants' engagement with PA in later life. CONCLUSION: In view of these findings, intervention designers could usefully work with behavioural scientists for insight as to how to enhance psychological and social factors in older adults. Our data suggest that interventions that aim to build self-efficacy, motivation and social networks have the potential to indirectly promote PA participation in older adults. This would be best achieved by developing physical activity interventions through working with participants in an empowering and engaging way.

Original publication




Journal article


Plos one

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