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L. Jayne Beselt, Michelle C. Patterson, Meghan H. McDonough, Jennifer Hewson, and Scott MacKay

Physical activity (PA) and social support have known benefits for the well-being and health of older adults, and social support is associated with PA behavior and positive affective experiences in PA contexts. The aim of this study was to synthesize qualitative research conducted on the experiences of social support related to PA among older adults (age ≥55 years). Following meta-study methodology, the authors searched nine databases and extracted information from 31 studies. Results were synthesized in terms of common themes and in light of theoretical and methodological perspectives used. The qualitative literature identifies supportive behaviors and social network outcomes which may be useful for informing how best to support older adults to be physically active. This literature rarely reflected the experiences of vulnerable populations, and future research should aim to further understand supportive behaviors which enable older adults to overcome barriers and challenges to being physically active.

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Chantelle Zimmer, Meghan H. McDonough, Jennifer Hewson, Ann Toohey, Cari Din, Peter R.E. Crocker, and Erica V. Bennett

Little is known about how social participation can be facilitated among older adults in group physical activity and its psychosocial benefits that contribute to successful aging. This study aimed to understand older adults’ experiences with social participation in group physical activity programs. Using interpretive description methodology, 16 observations, eight focus groups, and two interviews with participants unable to attend focus groups were conducted with adults 55 years and older attending programs across four recreation facilities. Group programs were found to influence social participation through (a) a meaningful context for connecting and (b) instructors’ expectations of social interaction. Social participation in these programs addressed psychosocial needs by (c) increasing social contact and interaction, (d) fostering social relationships and belonging, and (e) promoting regular engagement. Training for instructors should include balancing the physical aspects of program delivery with the social, while also considering older adults’ diverse needs and preferences for social interaction.