The role of culture, environment, and religion in the promotion of physical activity among Arab Israelis

Prev Chronic Dis. 2008 Jul;5(3):A88. Epub 2008 Jun 15.


Introduction: Despite low levels of physical activity among Arabs in Israel, interventions designed to increase physical activity in this population have been scarce. To improve our understanding of the cultural, religious, and environmental barriers and enablers to physical activity, we conducted a qualitative study among Arab Israeli college students in Israel.

Methods: A total of 45 students participated in 8 focus groups. Purposeful sampling was used to capture the diverse characteristics of participants. Two researchers analyzed the data independently guided by grounded theory. Peer-debriefing sessions were held to group preliminary categories into larger themes. Generally, consensus between researchers was high, and minor differences were resolved.

Results: Participants recognized the importance of physical activity in chronic disease prevention, yet most were not regularly physically active. This contradiction could be explained by the fact that many participants lived in an extended-family setting that deemphasized the importance of physical activity. Women often found themselves exercising at odd hours so that they would not be noticed by neighbors. Religion, in comparison, was considered a facilitating factor because the scriptures supported physical activity. Furthermore, an urban environment was an enabling factor because it provided exercise facilities, sidewalks, and a socially acceptable venue for activity. Participants felt resources were not allocated by the government to accommodate physical activity.

Conclusion: Increasing Arab Israelis' access to safe and culturally appropriate exercise facilities should become a priority. Thus, policy changes in allocating appropriate funds to promote physical activity must be considered, along with using multiple health promotion strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arabs / ethnology*
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Male
  • Minority Groups
  • Motor Activity*
  • Religion