How life changes affect physical activity: A study of young adults
This is a summary of the article "Ways into physical (in)activity: The role of critical life events and transitions in the reconstructions of young adults" by Hannes Gropper, Jannika M. John, and Ansgar Thiel, published in PLOS ONE on August 22, 2023.
- Physical activity (PA) is a fluctuating behavior that can change across the life course due to the experience of life events and transitions.
- Life events are discrete occurrences that disrupt the normal routine, such as moving, graduating, or breaking up.
- Transitions are longer-term processes of adaptation and adjustment to new situations, such as becoming a parent, starting a career, or retiring.
- Life events and transitions can have positive or negative effects on PA, depending on the individual's resources, coping strategies, and social support.
- Previous studies have mostly focused on specific life events or transitions, such as pregnancy, marriage, or unemployment, and their impact on PA.
- However, there is a lack of research that explores the patterns and dynamics of PA changes across different types of life events and transitions, especially among young adults who face multiple and diverse challenges in their life course.
- The authors conducted a qualitative study with 20 young adults (10 men and 10 women) aged 18 to 35 years who had experienced at least one critical life event or transition in the past two years that affected their PA.
- The participants were recruited from different settings, such as universities, sports clubs, or social media platforms, and had varying levels of PA and sport involvement.
- The authors conducted semi-structured interviews with the participants, using open-ended questions to elicit their narratives of PA changes in relation to their life events and transitions.
- The authors analyzed the data using a reflexive thematic analysis approach, which involved identifying themes and patterns that emerged from the participants' experiences.
The authors identified four main themes that captured the ways into physical (in)activity among the participants:
- Reorientation: This theme involved participants who changed their PA behavior due to a shift in their personal values, goals, or identity. For example, some participants started or increased their PA after realizing its benefits for their health, well-being, or self-esteem. Others reduced or stopped their PA after losing interest, motivation, or enjoyment in their previous activities.
- Reorganization: This theme involved participants who changed their PA behavior due to a change in their daily routine, structure, or environment. For example, some participants started or increased their PA after finding more time, flexibility, or opportunities in their new schedule or location. Others reduced or stopped their PA after facing more constraints, stress, or distractions in their new situation.
- Recovery: This theme involved participants who changed their PA behavior due to a physical or psychological injury or illness. For example, some participants started or increased their PA after recovering from their condition or using it as a coping mechanism. Others reduced or stopped their PA after suffering from pain, fatigue, or depression.
- Relationships: This theme involved participants who changed their PA behavior due to a change in their social network or interactions. For example, some participants started or increased their PA after finding new friends, partners, or role models who inspired or supported them. Others reduced or stopped their PA after losing contact, trust, or compatibility with their previous companions.
The authors also found that the participants' PA changes were influenced by several factors that moderated the effects of life events and transitions:
Resources: These included personal factors such as skills, knowledge, confidence, and motivation; material factors such as equipment, facilities, and finances; and temporal factors such as availability and flexibility of time.
Coping strategies: These included cognitive strategies such as reframing, planning, and goal-setting; behavioral strategies such as seeking information, advice, or feedback; and emotional strategies such as expressing feelings, seeking support, or venting frustration.
Social support: This included instrumental support such as providing practical help, advice, or feedback; emotional support such as providing empathy, encouragement, or comfort; and companionship support such as providing company, friendship, or fun.
The authors also noted that the participants' PA changes were not linear or stable, but rather dynamic and fluctuating over time, depending on the interplay of these factors.
The authors concluded that life events and transitions can have significant impacts on young adults' PA behavior, but the direction and magnitude of these impacts vary depending on the