A Qualitative Investigation of Physical Activity Compensation Among Older Adults

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ObjectivesThis study explored the mechanisms of physical activity (PA) compensation among older adults who recently reduced their non-exercise physical activity (NEPA) in response to a structured PA intervention.DesignA post-trial, retrospective qualitative process evaluation using interviews was employed.MethodsLevels of PA compensation were determined by comparing NEPA prior to and during the final week of a 4-week structured PA intervention. Those who reduced their NEPA by 10% or greater were considered as compensators. Interviews were conducted with older adult compensators (mean age = 58.56 ± 3.88 years; n = 9), employing thematic analysis to identify potential mechanisms of PA compensation.ResultsThe findings suggest that the majority of participants were unaware that they had compensated in their PA, suggesting that this may be a non-volitional process. Most participants perceived PA compensation to hold negative implications for health and well-being. Physiological processes of fatigue and delayed onset of muscle soreness were cited as the principal cause of PA compensation, whereas psychological processes including a drive to be inactive, fear of overexertion, deficient motivation, and perceived time constraints were cited to a lesser extent.ConclusionA range of physiological and psychological compensatory barriers were identified. Implications of and methods to overcome these compensatory barriers are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-224
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date24 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 28 Feb 2018


  • Physical activity
  • older adults
  • physical activity guidelines


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