A systematic review of social support for participation in physical activity-based recreation programs for older adults


Participation in physical activity with others can prevent isolation and improve psychological adjustment (Government of Canada, 2014). Social support and has been identified as important for older adults' initiation and maintenance of participation in physical activity (McAuley et al., 2003). Broadly defined, social support, refers to interpersonal interactions intended as helpful. While the benefits of social support are recognized, it is conceptualized and measured in a wide variety of ways, and it is unclear what types of social support enable participation in physical activity. The aim of this systematic review was to investigate what types of social support have been used in the extant literature on physical activity participation among older adults. Following PRISMA guidelines (Moher et al., 2009), we searched nine databases for studies pertaining to social support, physical activity, and aging. N=74 randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental, longitudinal, and correlational studies were identified. Social support was conceptualized in terms of joint participation in physical activity, modeling, norms, cohesion, reinforcement, and supportive functions. Sources of social support identified in the literature were friends, family, partners, spouses, social network members, and healthcare professionals. Access to social support was measured by having a companion, marital status, social network characteristics, and satisfaction with social contacts. Identifying these conceptualizations of social support is the first phase in a larger systematic review aiming to identify what forms of social support are important to enable physical activity participation and to determine if the extent the literature has addressed the needs of vulnerable populations of older adults.

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Alix Hayden, University of Calgary Librarian, and support from a University of Calgary, University Research Grants Committee, Social Sciences and Humanities seed grant.