Practices that facilitate social support in online exercise classes for people living with cancer: Observations of interpersonal interactions


Social support can be facilitated through exercise programs for people living with cancer. However, there is limited knowledge about fostering social support in programs delivered online. Guided by social support theory (Feeney & Collins, 2015) the purpose of this study was to examine interpersonal behaviours exhibited by fitness professionals and participants that may facilitate support in online exercise classes. Observational data was collected from ten online exercise oncology classes using interpretive description methodology; observations were guided by principles for open-ended ethnographic field notes. Behaviours related to interpersonal interactions among and between fitness professionals and class participants were coded. Social support behaviours demonstrated by fitness professionals included facilitating social connections (e.g., asking questions and calling on participants), providing autonomy support (e.g., not pushing participants when they aren't feeling well), and providing support through exercise instruction (e.g., encouraging participants). Supportive behaviours exhibited by participants included connecting through their shared cancer experience (e.g., talking about their doctor) and participating in exercise together (e.g., exercising with a group who are positive, exercising together outside of class). In addition, both fitness professionals and participants provided support by being empathetic, caring, friendly, and welcoming (e.g., listening to participants, participants greet each other and join in on conversation). The findings identify behaviours that can be used to inform fitness professionals' practice by intentionally fostering support in ways that consider participants' wants and needs, integrating support into physical activity, and acknowledging the value of shared and common experiences among participants, in the context of a caring climate.

Acknowledgments: Funding: Faculty of Kinesiology, Training in Research and Clinical Trials in Integrative Oncology (TRACTION) Program