Physical activity and ageing

Cassie Phoenix, Emmanuelle Tulle

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Over the past decade, research at the intersection of the ageing body and physical activity has been slowly shifting from an almost exclusive focus on the health benefits of physical activity in older age (e.g. Chodzko-Zajko et al. 2009), to a broader comprehension of physical activity as a cultural practice and personal endeavour in older age. Debates and discussions surrounding the intersection of ageing and physical activity are taking place across numerous disciplines including health sciences, social gerontology, sociology of sport, and geography to name but a few and subsequently, the literature incorporates a divergent range of approaches, theoretical positions and methodologies. While still dominated by positivist epistemologies, more critically informed, interpretive research examining the experiences of physical activity in older adults has emerged in recent years (see Tulle 2008a, Eman 2012, Tulle and Phoenix 2015). As Phoenix and Grant (2009) note, these other ways of knowing and can offer rich insight into the organization and dynamics of physical activity in context, along with the diversity of meanings that older people give to their involvement.Within this body of work, scholars have examined a range of topics including the influence of (spousal) relationships on physical activity behaviours (Dionigi et al., 2012, Barnett et al. 2013), the enjoyment of competition (Dionigi 2006, Tulle 2008a, Berlin 2014), the value of social networks facilitated by exercise settings (Bidonde, Goodwin and Drinkwater, 2009, Capalb, O’Halloran and Liamputtong 2014), the influence of cultural beliefs (D’Alonzo and Sharma 2010, Jette and Vertinsky, 2011, Ceria-Ulep et al., 2011) and gender (Liechty et al., 2014, Humberstone and Cutler-Riddick, 2015) on experiences of physical activity; the impact of physical and social environments (Aronson & Oman, 2004; Chaudhury, Mahmood, Michael, Campo & Hay, 2012) including residential care settings (Kluge et al., 2012) and the changing dynamics of long-term involvement in sport and exercise (Heuser 2005, Griffin and Phoenix 2014, Evans and Sleap 2015,).This work illuminates how the ageing body is a key site for ‘acting out’ physical activity policies and practices. It also highlights how older adults’ experiences of physical activity can be diverse, shaped by a variety of socio-economic factors and lifestyle choices that cannot be separated from the wider context and culture within which they take place (Gullette 2004). In this chapter we provide an overview of key issues that demonstrate the ways in which physical activity and inactivity have come to be recognised as core concerns in relation to growing older. We then draw attention to three strands of research within this domain, which we believe have much to offer our understanding of the paradoxes and tensions regarding physical activity policy and promotion that arise in the context of older age. Finally, we offer a number of future directions that researchers committed to focusing a critical spotlight on physical activity policies and practice may wish to pursue.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Physical Activity Policy and Practice
EditorsJoe Piggin, Louise Mansfield, Mike Weed
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Electronic)9781315672779
ISBN (Print)9781138943087
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2017

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks


  • ageing
  • physical activity
  • policy and practice

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