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Although research clearly shows that physical activity has significant health benefits and contributes to the prevention of chronic disease onset, the vast majority of the world’s population is insufficiently physically active, and the prevalence of insufficient physical activity is greatest in the population of older adults. The social environment may play an important role in shaping health behaviors, we however, lack knowledge regarding the exact influence of the social environment on older persons’ physical activity levels. This research therefore aims to identify the relationships of physical activity to enabling and disabling behaviors in the social environment among older people in the Netherlands.
Participants were randomly sampled from the Rotterdam municipality register and stratified by age group (70–74, 75–79, 80–84, and ≥ 85 years) and neighborhood (district). Of 2798 respondents, 1280 (46%) returned filled-in questionnaires. The Perceived Social Influence on Health Behavior (PSI-HB) instrument was used to assess the degree to which individuals’ health behavior is influenced by those around them. Respondents were additionally asked about enabling and disabling behaviors in their social environments and how many days per week they were physically active. Physical activity scores ranged from 0 (not being physically active for 30 min a day at all during the week) to 7 (being physically active every day of the week). Respondents with a score of ≥5 were considered to be physically active and those with a score of < 5 as physically inactive.
Results revealed that increasing age significantly contributed to physical inactivity within this older population. Lower educational level significantly decreased the odds of physical activity. After controlling for background characteristics results show enabling behaviors and utilitarian social influence significantly increased the odds of physical activity while disabling behaviour of the social environment contributed to physical inactivity. No significant associations were found with perceived social influence aspects value-expressive influence and informational influence.
Actual enabling and disabling behaviors of actors in older people’s social environments seem relevant for their physical activity levels, in positive and negative ways. In promoting active aging, consideration of the role of the social environment and ensuring that it is supportive of older people’s physical activity are important.