Participation in regular exercise is one of, if not the most beneficial action to prevent chronic injuries and disease in older populations (Brassington, Atienza, Perczek, DiLorenzo & King, 2002). Adherence to exercise programs has often been a problem, and ways to increase adherence need to be researched. Social support is one way in which adherence to exercise can be accomplished in elderly populations. There are different strategies that can be used to use social support, and the most effective ways should be researched. It is important that social support is used by both exercise instructors and group members. The purpose of this paper will be to look at reasons for social support and strategies that should be used to increase exercise participation in group fitness programs for the elderly.
Elderly individuals are at increased risk for health problems, but social support can enhance life by increasing both physical and mental health. Gill and Williams (2008) define social support as “support of others” (p.251). Emotional, informational and tangible support, are all examples of ways in which instructors and group members help each other (Gill and Williams, 2008). Showing someone that you care about their choices or effort is important for fostering improvements in motivation and self-confidence. When commencing an exercise program or activity, society looks at social support for approval (Courneya, Plotnikoff, Hotz, & Birkett, 2000). The assistance that one receives from others via social support will yield a more positive experience for both the individual and group. It should be noted that social support will lead to increase cohesion between individuals and the group, which will also lead to increase team building and group dynamic skills. Increased cohesion leads to greater motivation, communication, task orientation and exercise adherence. Social support is also shown to have a large influence on reducing stress (Gill & Williams, 2008). In the exercise setting, the elderly individuals will increase their self-confidence, allowing for greater fitness gains and overall physical health. Competing in group exercise programs will also increase social networking and friend making. It is always better mentally to complete workouts in a group rather than individually.
In order to promote social support in an exercise program for elderly individuals, it will be important to foster strategies both as an instructor and between group members. As a group instructor it will be extremely important to show the individuals that they are welcome and respected when entering the exercise setting. Motivational signs with quotes and messages will help to increase positive attitude before exercise even begins. As the participants are known to be in good shape, it will not be as important to motivate for exercise improvement, as much as it will be to keep the participants coming back. Offering incentives to the person who has the best attendance, with gift certificates to local restaurants or sporting events will help. Changing the types of activities that the program offers will help to prevent boredom, and having the participants have a democratic input on possible activities should be used. As the instructor, you can only do so much, with other support options needing to come from others involved with the program.
Promoting social support between program participants is the next key step to an effective exercise program. The usage of this exercise program is for group dynamics, but there will be times for individuals to complete workouts and testing individually in front of the group. This will allow the group a chance to show support for their exercise partners. Differing models of support according to Gill and Williams (2008) include: listening, emotional, task appreciation, task challenge, tangible assistance and personal assistance. Allowing the group to acknowledge personal effort, give feedback and challenge each other to bigger and better accomplishments will help keep motivation levels high. Team competitions will be used to foster group cohesion and healthy social support aspects. A mock weight lifting meet will be used as a friendly competition. Group support will be a great addition to instructor support, and both will increase desire and exercise capabilities.
The major purpose of this paper was to explain the process of social support and come up with specific goals to help increase social support within an elderly exercise program. “Perceived social support is the key contributor to health and well-being” (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 252). Using social support as an instructor and between program participants has beneficial effects on motivation and performance. Even though the participants are in good physical health, the added support may help achieve greater task orientation and a sense of happiness. The goal is to keep the participants both looking forward to and wanting to come back. If these exercisers know they have good friends and companions to help achieve personal goals, the program will be a success.
Barrera, M. (1986). Distinctions between social support concepts, measures, and models. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14(4), 413-445.
Courneya, K. S., Plotnikoff, R. C., Hotz, S. B., & Birkett, N. J. (2000). Social support and the theory of planned behavior in the exercise domain. American Journal of Healthy Behavior, 24(4), 300-308.
Gill, D.L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.