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Physical activity intervention in older adults: does a participating partner make a difference?

Abstract

Social integration and social support are expected to facilitate the adoption and maintenance of physical activity. In the context of a physical activity intervention, we distinguished three partner status groups, serving as an indicator of social integration. It was hypothesized that individuals whose partner also participated in the intervention, as opposed to individuals whose partners did not participate, or individuals without an intimate partner, would benefit more in terms of their physical activity. In a second step, a differential prediction pattern of social support on physical activity for each of the three partner status groups was investigated. The study involved 302 men and women (aged 60–95 years) and included two measurement points in time: A baseline assessment with a leaflet intervention to foster physical activity, and a 4-week follow-up assessment. In participants whose partners took part in the intervention, physical activity increased substantially over time, whereas it did not change in those individuals whose partners were not involved in the intervention, and it did not change in singles. Social support was positively related to physical activity when couples participated together in the intervention, but it was negatively related in singles or when partners did not participate. Social support appeared to be beneficial for physical activity in older adults when both partners participate in the intervention, which might reflect joint exercise or reciprocal exercise support. Singles or those with nonparticipating partners are not only less active, they might also be impeded by misguided support that could be perceived as social control.

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Acknowledgments

This work has been supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the project “Fostering Lifelong Autonomy and Resources in Europe: Behaviour and Successful Aging: FLARE-BSA” (Project ID 01ET0801). The first author was funded by the PhD Program “Multimorbidity in Old Age” of the Robert Bosch Foundation. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Paul Gellert.

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Responsible editor: D.J.H. Deeg

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Gellert, P., Ziegelmann, J.P., Warner, L.M. et al. Physical activity intervention in older adults: does a participating partner make a difference?. Eur J Ageing 8, 211 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-011-0193-5

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Keywords

  • Social support
  • Physical activity
  • Intervention