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Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Apr 27;14(1):56. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-0509-8.

The association between social support and physical activity in older adults: a systematic review.

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Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.
Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.
Faculty of Health, Federation University, Ballarat, Australia.
Department of Kinesiology, Physical Activity, Sports and Health Research Group, KU Leuven - University of Leuven, B-3000, Leuven, Belgium.



The promotion of active and healthy ageing is becoming increasingly important as the population ages. Physical activity (PA) significantly reduces all-cause mortality and contributes to the prevention of many chronic illnesses. However, the proportion of people globally who are active enough to gain these health benefits is low and decreases with age. Social support (SS) is a social determinant of health that may improve PA in older adults, but the association has not been systematically reviewed. This review had three aims: 1) Systematically review and summarise studies examining the association between SS, or loneliness, and PA in older adults; 2) clarify if specific types of SS are positively associated with PA; and 3) investigate whether the association between SS and PA differs between PA domains.


Quantitative studies examining a relationship between SS, or loneliness, and PA levels in healthy, older adults over 60 were identified using MEDLINE, PSYCInfo, SportDiscus, CINAHL and PubMed, and through reference lists of included studies. Quality of these studies was rated.


This review included 27 papers, of which 22 were cross sectional studies, three were prospective/longitudinal and two were intervention studies. Overall, the study quality was moderate. Four articles examined the relation of PA with general SS, 17 with SS specific to PA (SSPA), and six with loneliness. The results suggest that there is a positive association between SSPA and PA levels in older adults, especially when it comes from family members. No clear associations were identified between general SS, SSPA from friends, or loneliness and PA levels. When measured separately, leisure time PA (LTPA) was associated with SS in a greater percentage of studies than when a number of PA domains were measured together.


The evidence surrounding the relationship between SS, or loneliness, and PA in older adults suggests that people with greater SS for PA are more likely to do LTPA, especially when the SS comes from family members. However, high variability in measurement methods used to assess both SS and PA in included studies made it difficult to compare studies.


Loneliness; Older adults/aging; Physical activity; Social support; Systematic review

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