Promoting physical activity amongst older adults: What if we asked them what they want?Two studies to consider the effects of involving older adults in the design, delivery, implementation and promotion of interventions to promote physical activity amongst their age group.

  • Elisabeth Boulton

Student thesis: Unknown


It is well known that physical activity can bring many benefits to people as they become older. In addition, a great deal is known about the personal and environmental motivators and barriers for older adults engaging in physical activity, yet policy imperatives have failed to deliver the change in activity levels required to even relatively modest levels of activity.This study has sought to ascertain the effect of involving older adults in the design, delivery, implementation and promotion of interventions to promote physical activity amongst their age group. Through a two phase design the study has sought to find out what the essential ingredients of a successful intervention to promote physical activity would be, before applying some of these findings to the promotion of interventions and considering their effect.The first phase of the study consisted of a qualitative study to identify older adults' views and experiences. Some 61 older adults, aged between 49 and 87 years, were involved in 11 focus groups and 12 individual semi-structured interviews. Participants were asked why they engaged in physical activities, or what might encourage them to do so. The study was designed to identify the essential elements of a successful physical activity intervention. The second phase of the study, an action research project evolving from the qualitative study, involved older adults who were running community groups and physical activity sessions in their local areas and were keen to increase membership numbers. The Action Research Group, consisting of six older adults, two community development workers and the researcher, identified a number of problems to address as part of the study. New promotional literature for the community groups was developed, using the findings from the first study. Easy access, enjoyment, fun and affordability were highlighted on posters and leaflets that were distributed in the local communities.The studies established that there are various factors that make engaging in physical activities accessible and appealing to older adults. Participants reported that activities must be flexible; affordable; accessible; sociable; enjoyable and that engagement is seasonal. Factors relating to personality and lifestyle were also important. Not feeling the need to be active, and being unmotivated to do so, cannot be easily influenced by external promotion of physical activity. However, ensuring that activities are as easy as possible to engage in could help to encourage older adults to try activities that they might otherwise rule out. The health benefits of physical activity were far less important to the participants than the social benefits. Involving older adults in the promotion of activities, focussing on the characteristics of activities that appeal to them, had some success. Difficulties in appealing to older adults across a broad age range emerged, as many participants in both studies were put off attending any activity labelled as for 'over 50s'. They did not identify themselves as 'over 50'. Both studies highlighted the additional difficulty of attracting men to existing activity groups and sessions.A multilevel, social ecological model is presented, which highlights the influences on engagement in physical activity at individual and environmental levels. The future promotion of physical activity should focus on the social benefits and enjoyment that can be gained through participation, rather than on potential health benefits. How activities are labelled and promoted requires careful consideration and local older adults should be involved in local interventions. Community groups delivering interventions must receive tangible support.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorChristopher Todd (Supervisor) & Maria Horne (Supervisor)


  • behaviour change
  • involvement
  • physical activity
  • older adults

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