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Kinesiology and Community Health :: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
College of Applied Health Sciences

Cultural Perspectives on Physical Activity among Older Latina Women

latina study

Despite the growing awareness of the health benefits of physical activity, participation levels are disappointingly low throughout US. Most individuals do not reach the (DHHS) nationally recommended guidelines for physical activity (150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity), with older adults representing the least active age group. Underserved populations are a particularly vulnerable group for physical inactivity possibly because public health messages and interventions appear to be less effective in minority groups. Dr. Schwingel of the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health is working with colleagues across campus and from the University of Illinois at Chicago to identify factors that affect physical activity decisions among Latina women aged 65 and older.

This research project proposes to examine the ways in which socio-cultural context impacts the health behavior of older Latinas, in particular, seeking to analyze barriers and facilitators to physical activity participation in aging minorities. The main purpose of the study is to increase our understanding of the factors that contribute to physical activity decisions among older Latina women. Specifically, using a mixed methods design, our goal is to explore perceptions, attitudes and values about physical activity in older Latina adults. We will do this by investigating: (1) older Latina adults' understanding and awareness of the term physical activity; (2) their interpretation of the socio-cultural contexts in which they chose (or chose not) to be physically active; and (3) their visualization of physical activity opportunities and barriers in their local environment.

latina study

This is the first study to use accelerometers and photo elicitation to explore the socio-cultural and structural factors that shape perceptions, attitudes, values and behavior regarding physical activity in urban and rural settings. Photo elicitation is a research technique that invites participants to take photographs of salient features in their lives that are both personally meaningful and possess significant explanatory power. The overall goal of our research agenda is to increase our understanding of how Latinas conceptualize physical activity with the ultimate goal of increasing the physical activity levels in this population.

Following an investigation of physical activity levels, we collected photographs from each participant depicting interpretations of physical activity, exercise resources in the community, and aspects of physical and social environment that influence physical activity and health behavior. Photographs were used as a platform for in-depth interviews that were carried out for selected physically active and sedentary participants.

Preliminary findings underscore a significant difference between older Latina women living in rural areas, who on average engage in less than 30 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, and those in urban areas, who achieved approximately 100 minutes. Data analysis of qualitative data indicates that the women's strong faith and family responsibilities play a major role in their lives, and may act as both barriers to and facilitators of healthy and active lifestyles. We are in the initial stages of developing a culturally-competent and research-grounded intervention in this population.

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