Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 November 2019
Physical activity is increasingly positioned as playing an important role in preventing and mitigating many of the decrements associated with biological ageing. As a result, public health messages encourage older people to remain active in later life. Despite this, physical activity participation rates among older adults are low. This may be in part related to the conventional approach to understanding physical activity participation as a product of motivation. We contend that this approach does not allow for a deeper exploration of the wider structural, historical and discursive contexts in which physical activity participation occurs. Therefore, we propose that physical activity can be reconceptualised as a career. Through a synthesis of findings from four studies exploring physical activity experiences in later life, we demonstrate that beginning and maintaining a physical activity career requires a disposition towards physical activity, the legitimation of physically active practices and dealing with contingencies. In addition, we demonstrate that maintaining a physical activity career requires investment and deliberation to adapt physical activity practices continually within an individual's own personal biography. As such, we conclude that current strategies to promote physical activity to older adults are unlikely to result in increased levels of participation. To promote physical activity to older adults an understanding of how structural, cultural and historical contexts influence participation is needed.
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