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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Older adults' experiences of an age-segmented exercise program Maliha, Katherine


This study examined the experiences of older adults within an age-segmented fitness program. The research was guided by the following questions: (1) What are the experiences of group members of a program designed for older adults?; and (2) How are members’ experiences related to their social position? Current research has demonstrated that the physical activity and exercise levels of older adults progressively decrease with age. To date, studies have shown that older adults who exercise do so not only for health, but also personal and social reasons. In addition, gender greatly influences whether or not an older adult is likely to exercise, and what meanings he or she will attribute to the practice. Building on the extant research, this study explored the meanings that older men and women attributed to exercise and investigated how older adults constructed their social identities in relation to their aging bodies and within the context of an exercise program. The study utilized data from in-depth qualitative interviews and focused observations with six male and six female members of a fitness program for older adults. The average age of the men in the sample was 73, while the average age of the women was 67. The majority of the men and women were well-educated, married, able-bodied, and self-identified as heterosexual. Each of the men and women were interviewed twice for a total of 20.5 interview hours. In addition, each member was observed an average of two times, for a total of 12 observation hours. The data were analyzed using Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) concepts of open and axial coding. My findings revealed that membership at the program reinforced age and gender relations through the use of the body as a symbol of self-expression (Biggs, 1997), which prescribed manhood and womanhood in opposition to each other, and where fit aging was defined in opposition to ageist stereotypes of disease and decline. The meanings that older men and women attributed to exercise were framed by their gender, their socialization experiences, and their attitudes about exercise and their aging bodies. This research found that older men and women negotiated their identities as individuals who were fit rather than old by contrasting their experiences with others who were not aging as successfully, and by conforming to ageist discourses privileging youth and health. My study contributes to the literature on exercise and ageism by revealing how some older adults negotiated meaning and identity in the context of socially constructed discourses around gender, fitness, and the aging body.

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