The experience of physical activity and the transition to retirement: a systematic review and integrative synthesis of qualitative and quantitative evidence

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2012 Aug 16;9:97. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-97.


Background: The transition to retirement has been recognised as a critical turning point for physical activity (PA). In an earlier systematic review of quantitative studies, retirement was found to be associated with an increase in recreational PA but with a decrease in PA among retirees from lower occupational groups. To gain a deeper understanding of the quantitative review findings, qualitative evidence on experiences of and views on PA around the transition to retirement was systematically reviewed and integrated with the quantitative review findings.

Method: 19 electronic databases were searched and reference lists were checked, citations tracked and journals hand-searched to identify qualitative studies on PA around the transition to retirement, published between January 1980 and August 2010 in any country or language. Independent quality appraisal, data extraction and evidence synthesis were carried out by two reviewers using a stepwise thematic approach. The qualitative findings were integrated with those of the existing quantitative systematic review using a parallel synthesis approach.

Results: Five qualitative studies met the inclusion criteria. Three overarching themes emerged from the synthesis of these studies: these related to retirees' broad concepts of PA, the motives for and the challenges to PA in retirement. Integrative synthesis of the qualitative findings with the quantitative evidence offered several potential explanations for why adults might engage in more recreational PA after the transition to retirement. These included expected health benefits, lifelong PA patterns, opportunities for socialising and personal challenges, and the desire for a new routine. A decrease in PA among retirees from lower occupational groups might be explained by a lack of time and a perceived low personal value of recreational PA.

Conclusions: To encourage adoption and maintenance of PA after retirement, interventions should promote health-related and broader benefits of PA. Interventions for retirees from lower occupational groups should take account of busy post-retirement lifestyles and the low personal value that might be attributed to recreational PA. Future research should address predictors of maintenance of recreational PA after the transition to retirement, the broader benefits of PA, and barriers to PA among retirees from lower occupational groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • Retirement*