The Role of a Senior Center in Promoting Physical Activity for Older Adults


  • Benjamin Hickerson
  • Annette Moore
  • Linda Oakleaf
  • Michael Edwards
  • Penny A. James
  • Jason Swanson
  • Karla A. Henderson


social ecology, enjoyment, health, parks and recreation, case study, elderly, senior citizens


The health of citizens in communities is a paramount concern of parks and recreation professionals. Although opportunities for physical activity have been ubiquitous in public recreation programs, their potential is more important today than ever before for all ages, including older adults. The purpose of this paper is to explore the roles of a community senior center (CSC) in promoting physical activity among older adults. People are living longer, and the number of older people is growing rapidly. Therefore, examining how physical activity can be facilitated has implications that can lead to healthier older adults and communities. Health and well-being are influenced by multiple facets within the individual as well as in physical and social environments. Health behaviors such as physical activity are influenced not only by motivations but also by the structures, opportunities, and policies that exist in communities. We conducted research for this case study over a period of three months in the spring of 2007. Data were gathered through the triangulation of field observations, focus groups, and in-depth interviews. The focus was not on the CSC in general but specifically on the programs that facilitated physical activity, which were defined as activities that involved large muscle movement. Four major themes related to physical activity participation at the CSC emerged from the analysis: organizational resources, personal capital, relational capital and social structure, and physical activity and enjoyment. The idea of capital as the sum of assets that make a phenomenon work was a way to examine how these themes could be theorized to understand the possible role of a senior center in facilitating physical activity for and with older adults. This study further confirms for managers the importance of a social ecological approach to health promotion through parks and recreation. Although most recreation programs are based on the idea that many factors can influence an individual’s motivation to participate, this study underlined the intentionality necessary to ensure that relational issues such as social support and peer recognition are reinforced. Although adequate facilities and organizational support are prerequisites, these opportunities alone did not contribute to physically healthier adults without addressing other personal and relational aspects.?





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