Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"Hay Sacks Anonymous": Living in the Shadow of the Unidentified. Psychological Aspects of Physical Inactivity from a Phenomenological Perspective

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"Hay Sacks Anonymous": Living in the Shadow of the Unidentified. Psychological Aspects of Physical Inactivity from a Phenomenological Perspective

Article excerpt

The present qualitative study emanates from a phenomenological perspective and has the purpose of creating an understanding for what a so-called "hay sack" is as well as understanding the experiences of a hay sack. In this context a hay sack refers to a person with low physical activity. Eight hay sacks between 36-58 years of age were interviewed about their experiences. Karlsson's (1995) EPP-method was used. The analysis resulted in 13 categories. A hay sack wants to, but is unable to engage in regular physical activity as a consequence of something unidentified, possibly a psychological barrier. Being a hay sack involves thoughts and feelings which are expressed in a variety of ways such as excuses and anxiety about future health.

Key Words: Physical Inactivity, Hay Sack, Keep-fit Measures, Exercise, and Motivation


The human species, Homo Sapiens, has probably existed for approximately 200,000 years (Gardenfors, 2000). Its predecessors, who diverged from the other apes, are the hominids who developed and adjusted to life on the savannahs in East Africa during a period approximately 5 to 8 million years ago. The following history is evolutionary history, but it is clear that human's cognitive and intellectual abilities have developed significantly since then.

During the last 200 years, technical development has been rapid, leading to societies in which individuals increasingly no longer need to be involved in physical activities either at work or outside of work (Fletcher, 1983). Prior to the technical revolution physical activity was a natural part of human life, whereas today individuals need to plan for the inclusion of physical activities in their lives (Farquhar, 1987). This fact has had the following effect. Many individuals in technically advanced cultures are physically inactive resulting in poorer health for a large proportion of the population (McElroy, 2002).

Most researchers agree that regular physical exercise positively affects both the psychological and physical well-being. In addition, most research participants have reported a positive attitude toward physical activity and exercise at the same time as the total amount of exercisers is rather low (Bjuro & Wilhelmsen, 1975; Engstrom, 1979; Fjellstrom, 1976).

The proportion of physically inactive middle-aged men in Sweden is approximately 25-30 %, and for middle-aged women it is 10-15 % (Folkhalsoinstitutet, 1999). Among older individuals the proportions are about the same whereas the proportion for those between adolescence to middle-age is about 10-15 %. In this context, physical inactivity is defined as the absence of voluntary exercise, low daily physical activity involved in hobbies, no physical activity involved in travel to and from work, or at work. In addition to those who are inactive, there are also those who engage in some, but not sufficient, physical activity. The size of this group is dependent on the definition of sufficient physical activity for the maintenance of good health and the prevention of poor health. It is estimated that about 75 % of those above 30 years of age are either not sufficiently physically active or completely inactive (Folkhalsoinstitutet).

In order to increase well-being in the population, a number of health promotion projects have been initiated. These projects, however, have been plagued with a large number of "drop-outs" among the participants, a pattern also seen in relevant research (Cooper, 1970; Dishman, 1982; Dishman, Ickes, & Morgan, 1980; Folkhalsoinstitutet, 1999; Goodrick, Warren, Hartung, & Hoepfel, 1984; Martin & Dubbert, 1985; Norlander, Bergman, & Archer, 2002; Sachs & Buffone, 1984). The drop-out tendencies have been shown to constitute a substantial and complex problem, as they are difficult to get a grip on and to summarize since they involve so many aspects of physical activity. The reasons many project participants fail to go through regular physical activity may be physical, practical, and even psychological. …

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