Social supports and barriers for older adults not currently participating in group physical activity


Physical activity and social participation are important for thriving as one ages. Group physical activity can provide both physical and social benefits; however, social barriers and lack of social support may affect participation. This study examined social support needs and barriers among older adults who were not participating in group physical activities. Using interpretive description methodology, semi-structured interviews with older adults aged 55 and older who were not currently attending group physical activities were conducted. Analysis produced themes describing social barriers and social support behaviours. Most participants acknowledged having positive social support experiences related to physical activity at times in their lives. Barriers included (1) what groups are designed to provide does not meet all individuals' interests and needs; (2) intimidation when joining and interacting with groups; and (3) feedback and attempts at encouragement that are experienced as unsupportive can decrease interest, motivation and enjoyment. Socially supportive behaviours included (1) communication of encouragement and genuine interest, (2) providing accountability and modelling behaviour, and (3) sharing experiences and opportunities. Many participants described group physical activities as daunting, especially when trying new activities. It can take time to break into a new group, and negative social comparison made participants uncomfortable joining. Participants felt supported through encouragement from those they had a meaningful relationship with, such as a spouse, and when they received invitations to be active. Programs that address these barriers and utilize these supportive behaviours may reduce feelings of intimidation related to group physical activity and promote participation among older adults.

Acknowledgments: City of Calgary