Mission impossible? Physical activity programming for individuals experiencing homelessness


The homeless population is a vulnerable one, prone to physical, mental and social liabilities. Physical activity provides tangible physical health benefits as well as mental health and social benefits. There is some support that physical activity programs can provide the homeless with several of the necessary skills to become more independent and ultimately gain control of their lives. Participants included 18 men and two women accessing services from a local Mission. Eight reported exercising regularly in a gym setting (gym users group); 12 were not regularly active in a gym setting (comparison group). Participants completed the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale, New General Self-Efficacy Scale, Exercise Behavior Questionnaire, Quality of Life Scale, and the PAR-Q. Body mass index was calculated. Participants completed a one-mile treadmill walk test, sit and reach measure, and a grip strength test. Finally, participants took part in a semi-structured interview that included questions about their history of physical activity participation, attitudes toward physical activity, knowledge seeking behaviour, and perceptions of social support for being physically active. The results indicated two variables were significantly different between the groups. The gym users had significantly better grip strength (M = 46.67 kg, SD = 2.64, p = .017) than the comparison group (M = 37.42 kg, SD = 2.26). The gym users were able to complete the one-mile walk faster (M = 15.36 minutes, SD = 2.99, p = .033) than the comparison group (M = 17.80 minutes, SD = 1.62). Correlation coefficients indicated participants with higher intention to exercise walked faster; participants with a more positive attitude to exercise had lower BMI’s; participants with higher perceived behavioural control had greater intention to be active. The interviews indicated the participants saw value in being physically active and provided insight into developing physical activity programs aimed at the needs of this population. 

Acknowledgments: University of Winnipeg Major Research Grant