Articulating Meanings of Positive Adjustment to Aging through Physical Activity Participation among Older Adults
Keywords:competition, grounded theory, identity, older adults, social support, symbolic interactionism
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Physical activity can contribute to health and well-being for people of all ages. The purpose of this research is to use photo elicitation to examine the meanings associated with physical activity participation by older adults in North Carolina Senior Games (NCSG) State Finals. Six participants in the 2012 State Finals were invited to take photographs of what they deemed meaningful to them about their State Finals experiences. They described 137 photos during in-depth interviews. A grounded theory approach was used to analyze the data since symbolic interactionism was the methodological framework for organizing the study. Four themes emerged from the grounded theory process: distinguishing oneself through competition, transforming identities, being part of a collective experience, and redefining aging. Participation in these physical activity opportunities is shown to be a mechanism for adjusting to aging and maximizing mental and physical health in later life. Analysis of the descriptions of the photos revealed that the selection, optimization, and compensation (SOC) theory was applicable to these older adults as they set and pursued their athletic goals. Although only a small percentage of older adults may be interested in high levels of competition, this study points to the importance of providing a range of sports and physical activity experiences (i.e., recreational and competitive) for older adults. The social aspects of participation also were highly valued. Although the benefits of lifelong physical activity are important, the experiences of these older adults were meaningful and important regardless of how active they had been throughout their lives. Facilitating ways for older adults to be active as they age can be important related to distinguishing and transforming their aging identities, offering a collective social experience, and as a means to set goals relative to aging. Importantly, recreation providers can promote opportunities aimed at adults throughout their lives so that they can be active when they reach older adulthood. Further, we suggest that photo elicitation could be useful for recreation programming. The technique might be an interesting way for older participants to record what is important about their involvement in recreation activities. These photos could be displayed in a senior center or a recreation center as evidence of how individuals can find meanings in being physically active in their later years.
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