Physical activity, social isolation and loneliness in later life: A focus on rural areas in the UK

  • Jolanthe De Koning

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis explored the predictors of and relationships among loneliness, types of social isolation (SI) and physical activity (PA) in rurally-living older adults in the UK using interdisciplinary, sequential mixed-methods.Regression analysis was used to explore socioecological predictors of loneliness, family SI and community SI in 844 adults (mean age=71.5, SD=8.2). Each additional 10 years of residence lowered the likelihood of loneliness (OR=0.80, 95% CI=0.68-0.94), family SI (OR=0.71, 95% CI=0.63-0.80) and community SI (OR=0.85, 95% CI=0.75-0.96).Regression analysis was used to explore associations between loneliness and SI from family, friends or neighbours, accelerometer-measured light (LPA), moderate-to-vigorous (MVPA) and total PA (TPA), and everyday pursuits in 112 adults (mean age=72.8, SD=6.6). 4.5% were often lonely and 7.1% socially isolated. Loneliness and SI types were not associated with PA levels. However, volunteering related to MVPA (B=41.84, 95% CI=17.57-66.12) and lower odds of neighbour SI (OR=0.23, 95% CI=0.06-0.91). Accompanying others related to LPA (B=88.47, 95% CI=16.68-160.26) and lower odds of family SI (OR=0.39, 95% CI=0.22-0.68). Sports/exercise related to MVPA (B=37.86, 95% CI=18.23-57.50) and lower odds of friend SI (OR=0.56, 95% CI=0.33-0.97).Directed content analysis of semi-structured interviews was used to explore the diversity in SI and loneliness in 12 active (mean age=70.8, SD=4.5) and 12 inactive adults (mean age=75.3, SD=6.6). Family disruption related to emotional loneliness in active participants, while lack of social integration and overwhelming work or caring responsibilities related to social loneliness in inactive participants.Loneliness and SI seem similarly prevalent in rurally-living, versus urban-living, older adults in the UK. Recent migration to a rural area predicts loneliness and SI. Objectively-measured PA levels seem unrelated to loneliness and SI, although specific activities may increase both PA and social contact. Not meeting expectations of contact/relationships with family, friends or community members, may result in emotional or social loneliness, regardless of PA level.
Date of Award21 Mar 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorAfroditi Stathi (Supervisor) & Susan Richards (Supervisor)

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