Date of Award

5-2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Nursing

Advisor

Nancy Fishwick

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Bicknell

Third Committee Member

Amy Cotton

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to identify factors that contribute to community-dwelling older adults' participation in, and adherence to, a program of regular exercise. This descriptive qualitative study involved exploratory, semistructured interviews with older adults who exercise. A convenience sample was recruited from two athletic facilities in geographically close, mid-sized cities in Maine. Participants at the first gym were members of a senior center that included exercise classes and gym equipment such as treadmills and weights. Study subjects in the second gym exercised in a city recreational center gym. The latter study area had a walking group as well as a group exercise class. lnterviews took place in a private room after regular classes were finished. All interviews were individual, except for five exercise group members belonging to the second gym, who preferred to be interviewed as a focus group. lnterviews were transcribed by the investigator and analyzed using content analysis to find emerging themes. Common themes that emerged from the interviews were that study participants noted physical, functional, and psycho-social benefits of regular exercise. Physical benefits involved an overall improved sense of well-being and physical health, as well as increased strength and endurance. Functional benefits included improved flexibility, agility, and balance. Reported psychosocial benefits were mood elevation, friendship, and improved self-esteem. The ability to maintain independence appeared to be a key motivation for the older adults. Additional contributing factors included: group exercise, positive reinforcement, influence of significant others and habit. Mutual characteristics involved perceived significance of exercise, few negative perceptions, plans to continue indefinitely, influence of family members, validation, and taking personal responsibility. Suggestions were also offered by active older adults to health care providers to motivate sedentary elderly. Study participants were very active individuals who had a high regard for exercise. Thirty-three percent reported exercising regularly for three to six years, while sixty-seven percent had exercised for ten or more years. The average time spent exercising per week was almost four hours. Amazingly, almost half of the participants in this study began to exercise regularly after retirement and none have any plans to stop. Subjects appeared to be very happy and outgoing individuals who enjoyed one another's company at the gym, and often socialized after leaving the gyms. This research study filled knowledge gaps regarding motivational factors and characteristics of the active, community-dwelling, elderly population. Since the majority of older adults do not exercise, it is important to develop effective interventions to increase participation. Information gained from this study will assist health care clinicians in encouraging older adults to engage in regular physical activity.

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