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The ethnographic study of the meaning of activity in the elderly Gofsky, Marcia Nairn

Abstract

This study explored the meaning of active living from the perspective of older persons. While there is growing research to support an active lifestyle as beneficial in many ways, there has been little investigation into how elders themselves conceive of active lifestyles. This ethnographic study represents an important first step, as it is imperative to understand how elders themselves view active living in order to develop and implement any strategies in the most effective and respectful manner. The findings that emerged from in-depth interviews of 14 purposefully-selected informants comprised themes that could be structured into a taxonomy—an ethnography of the meaning of active living. The analysis of these themes made it clear that the elders' conceptions of active living required a multi-faceted and interdependent conception of the self and personal well-being, which importantly included having meaningful relationships. The notions of "valuable activities" and "valuable time spent" were found to be central and semantically related to, and perhaps a derivative of, the meanings of "active living." One of the most successful manifestations of active living, at least in part, was perceived to be ongoing goal-directed activity characterized by engagement and commitment. Autonomy and opportunity were identified to play a significant role in the meaning of "active lifestyle." Finally, the informants' conceptions of activity and active living were importantly described as self-reinforcing and positive. As active living referred to a set of conditions and ongoing, specific activities thought to help achieve, maintain and enhance personal well-being, the development and discussion of the taxonomy helps to illuminate at least one alleged route to achieving, maintaining and/or improving overall personal well-being.

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