Back from the brink: ageing, exercise and health in a small gym

Emmanuelle Tulle, Nika Dorrer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)
864 Downloads (Pure)


This paper discusses data from a qualitative study which explored older adults’ experiences of becoming regular exercisers in a gym triggered by health problems and their interactions with their younger gym instructors. A key question which the study sought to address was whether becoming embedded in the subfield of exercise challenged traditional discourses of ageing (age habitus). While these older gym users reported significant benefits (greater health capital, expanded social networks and a return to active life after illness), they nevertheless were engaged in a complex and ambiguous negotiation of attitudes to bodily ageing and meanings of fitness and competence. In contrast, the instructors subscribed to a model of physical activity oriented towards physical capital as greater fitness. The paper suggests that these positions manifest competing understandings about what constitutes appropriate and desirable physical capital in later life. Budgetary constraints, beliefs about physical ability, professional expectations and the persistence of the discourse of decline prevent this gap being easily bridged and alternative notions of ageing physicality colonising the sub-field of exercise. The paper concludes there is a need to develop ways of breaking down barriers in communication to overcome divergent understandings of what constitutes legitimate physical capital as we get older.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1106-1127
Number of pages22
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • old age
  • physical capital
  • age habitus
  • gym
  • health
  • physical activity


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