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Sports Med. 2002;32(3):143-68.

Factors affecting levels of physical activity in adults.

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Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48823, USA.


A large proportion of adults in Western cultures are physically inactive, despite several decades of warnings about the potentially negative health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. Efforts to promote physical activity have focused on identifying its determinants and designing interventions that might effectively promote regular physical activity. The multitude of factors that induce adults to initiate and maintain programmes of physical activity have been divided into those that are invariable (age, gender, race, ethnicity) and those that are presumed to be modifiable (behavioural and personality characteristics, environmental circumstances and community settings). The lack of consistency in the design, analysis and reporting of interventions in the lives of inactive or sedentary individuals has produced equivocal results. However, several social and environmental factors have systematically emerged as determinants of physical activity in adults. In ethnic minorities, the removal of barriers such as unaffordable facilities and unavailable childcare, high crime rates, fear for personal safety and culturally inappropriate activities are of primary importance. Social support from family, peers, communities and healthcare providers has resulted in modest improvements across cultures, ages and genders in selected settings, but the definition of specific interventions and their outcomes deserve additional attention. Longitudinal studies indicate that components of physical fitness are relatively transitory, with low to modest correlations between physical activity and measures of physical fitness in childhood and adolescence and in adulthood. Attempts to explain the activity behaviour of adults by applying various theories in programmes of intervention have also produced mixed results. Successful interventions tailor programmes to individual needs, account for personal levels of fitness, allow for personal control of the activity and its outcomes, and provide for social support by family, peers and communities. The initiation and maintenance of regular physical activity in adults depends on a multitude of biological and sociocultural variables that demand attention across the lifespan.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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