A theoretical investigation of the development of physical activity habits in retirement

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Objectives. This study examined the impact of retirement on physical activity patterns. More specifically, the process of initiating and maintaining behaviour changes in physical activity were explored using a self-determination theory perspective (Deci & Ryan, 1991, 2000).

Design. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore the formation of lifestyle habits post-retirement, and the role of physical activity within these. Interviews were analysed using thematic analysis and an informal comparison made between physically active and inactive retired adults.

Methods. Eleven participants (7 female, 4 male; 6 physically active, 5 physically inactive) were recruited from churches and a local newspaper advertisement in South West England. On average, participants (M age = 62.91 years; SD=2.3) had been retired 2 years and 8 months (SD= 20.03).

Results. Three main themes emerged from the interviews specific to retired adults; social factors, lifelong tendencies, and sense of purpose. All retired adults searched for purpose in their lives, and for physically active adults having an exercise schedule contributed to this on a daily basis. Physical activity also represented a source of personal challenge, whereas physically inactive retirees sought meaning and challenge from non-exercise domains. All participants were acutely aware of their mortality, but active participants felt that physical activity would increase their chances of enjoying a healthy retirement, rather than accepting a decline in physical function.

Conclusions. The results highlighted how global aspirations for life after retirement can influence one’s post-retirement lifestyle. The implications for future research and potential health promotion approaches are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-679
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


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