Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Examining Layers of Community in Leisure Contexts: A Case Analysis of Older Adults in an Exercise Intervention

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Examining Layers of Community in Leisure Contexts: A Case Analysis of Older Adults in an Exercise Intervention

Article excerpt

Healthy Aging and Community

The aging of populations across the developed world is being accompanied by an emergent healthy aging discourse (also called active, successful, or positive aging) in the fields of gerontology and health care (Bevan & Jeeawody, 1998; Davis, 1994; Peel, Bartlett & McClure, 2004; Rowe & Kahn, 1998), exercise promotion (Laura & Johnston, 1997; O'Brien Cousins, 1998; van Norman, 1995), and leisure studies (Dupuis, 2002; Fontane & Hurd, 1992). Consistently, the social and economic concerns of an aging population have prompted governments, businesses, and organizations to provide opportunities for older people to maintain their health and thus reduce the strain on health and welfare systems (Dionigi, 2008). In Australia, healthy aging has been identified as a key area for policy development and health promotion since the late 1990s (Bishop, 1999). This healthy aging discourse is comprised in part of multiple messages about autonomy for older people, alternative ways of viewing aging, community engagement, advice on leisure and lifestyle, the health benefits of physical activity, and exercise program development (Grant & Stothart, 1999). In particular, physically active leisure pursuits have been identified as key ingrethents to healthy aging (Dupuis, 2002; Fontane, 1996; Grant, 2002; Rowe & Kahn, 1998).

According to Grant (2002, p. 285), "[ojlder adults can live vital, independent, and active lives, and a leisure renaissance is seen as playing a positive part in this process." Specifically, there are a range of leisure services and physical activity programs aimed at encouraging older individuals to enhance and take responsibility for their health through exercise (Clark, 1992; Fiatarone Singh, 2000; Laura & Johnston, 1997; O'Brien Cousins, 1998; van Norman, 1995). However, the research that examines these programs, or exercise interventions, is typically quantitative and focuses upon the physical and psychological outcomes of participation through pre and post-test measures (Dionigi, 2007, Hurley & Roth, 2000; Hunter et al., 1995; Winett & Carpinelli, 2001). Little research exists on what such interventions actually mean to the older people who participate in them. More specifically, little is known about how older people make sense of their experiences in a program which clearly invests in the healthy aging discourse and its associated practices.

The healthy aging discourse not only emphasizes the importance of physical activity and leisure in later life, but also involvement in the community. Community involvement is viewed as part of the antidote to both mental and physical illness because it is believed to provide older adults with opportunities to experience social interaction, enjoyment, a sense of belonging, and a broader sense of wellbeing (Biggs, 1993; Kleiber, 1999; Peterson, Speer & McMillan, 2008). In postmodern society traditional contexts for communal experiences, such as church groups and neighbourhoods, are beginning to loosen and be replaced by leisure activities where feelings of community can be created (Gergen 1991; Poole, 2001). Some researchers have criticized leisure as an alternative site for community because it is believed that feelings and experiences of community in these contexts are periodic, short-lived, and superficial (Bauman, 2001). On the other hand, many leisure researchers argue that leisure activities can be vital in providing more than a brief escape from loneliness (Putnam, 2000). They can actually promote social ties and enduring relationships (Kelly & Goodbey, 1992) that enrich people's quality of life and a community's stability (Edginton et al., 2006; Kraus, 1990). Despite these claims, there is little empirical evidence to support the idea of community as an experience or feeling that transcends leisure contexts and affects people's lives.

One major reason for this limitation is that in social research, and amongst policy makers and leisure services providers, the term 'community' is often used as a discrete construct to describe a context (i. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.