A theoretical investigation of the development of physical activity habits in retirement

Br J Health Psychol. 2010 Sep;15(Pt 3):663-79. doi: 10.1348/135910709X479096. Epub 2009 Nov 17.


Objectives: This study examined the impact of retirement on physical activity (PA) patterns. More specifically, the process of initiating and maintaining behaviour changes in PA were explored using a self-determination theory perspective.

Design: Semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore the formation of lifestyle habits post-retirement, and the role of PA within these. Interviews were analysed using thematic analysis and an informal comparison made between physically active and inactive retired adults.

Methods: A total of 11 participants (7 female, 4 male; 6 physically active, 5 physically inactive) were recruited from churches and a local newspaper advertisement in South West England. On average, participants (M age=62.91 years; SD=2.3) had been retired 2 years and 8 months (SD=20.03).

Results: Three main themes emerged from the interviews specific to retired adults; social factors, lifelong tendencies, and sense of purpose. All retired adults searched for purpose in their lives, and for physically active adults having an exercise schedule contributed to this on a daily basis. PA also represented a source of personal challenge, whereas physically inactive retirees sought meaning and challenge from non-exercise domains. All participants were acutely aware of their mortality, but active participants felt that PA would increase their chances of enjoying a healthy retirement, rather than accepting a decline in physical function.

Conclusions: The results highlighted how global aspirations for life after retirement can influence one's post-retirement lifestyle. The implications for future research and potential health promotion approaches are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • England
  • Female
  • Habits*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Retirement*
  • Social Environment
  • Social Support