Background: Physical activity patterns have been shown to change significantly across the transition to retirement. As most older adults approach retirement as part of a couple, a better understanding of how spousal pairs influence each other's physical activity behaviour in retirement may help inform more effective interventions to promote physical activity in older age. This qualitative study aimed to explore and describe how couples influence each other's physical activity behaviour in retirement.
Methods: A qualitative descriptive study that used purposive sampling to recruit seven spousal pairs with at least one partner of each pair recruited from the existing EPIC-Norfolk study cohort in the east of England, aged between 63 and 70 years and recently retired (within 2-6 years). Semi-structured interviews with couples were performed, audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using data-driven content analysis.
Results: Three themes emerged: spousal attitude towards physical activity, spouses' physical activity behaviour and spousal support. While spouses' attitudes towards an active retirement were concordant, attitudes towards regular exercise diverged, were acquired across the life course and were not altered in the transition to retirement. Shared participation in physical activity was rare and regular exercise was largely an individual and independent habit. Spousal support was perceived as important for initiation and maintenance of regular exercise.
Conclusions: Interventions should aim to create supportive spousal environments for physical activity in which spouses encourage each other to pursue their preferred forms of physical activity; should address gender-specific needs and preferences, such as chances for socialising and relaxation for women and opportunities for personal challenges for men; and rather than solely focusing on promoting structured exercise, should also encourage everyday physical activity such as walking for transport.