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‘Keeping your body and mind active’: an ethnographic study of aspirations for healthy ageing
  1. Cornelia Guell1,
  2. Guy Shefer1,
  3. Simon Griffin1,2,
  4. David Ogilvie1
  1. 1MRC Epidemiology Unit and UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2The Primary Care Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Institute of Public Health, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cornelia Guell; cornelia.guell{at}


Objective To describe and explore perceptions, practices and motivations for active living in later life.

Design Qualitative study with semistructured interviews and ‘semistructured’ participant observations of participant-selected activities, such as exercise classes, private or organised walks, shopping and gardening.

Participants 27 participants (65–80 years) from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer Norfolk study, purposefully selected by gender, age, occupational class, living status and residential location; 19 of the participants agreed to be accompanied for observed activities.

Setting Participants’ homes, neighbourhoods, places of leisure activities and workplaces in Norfolk, England.

Results All participants regarded a positive attitude as important for healthy ageing; this included staying active, both physically and mentally through sedentary activities such as reading and crosswords. ‘Getting out of the house’, being busy, or following a variety of interests were regarded as both important motivators and descriptions of their ‘activeness’. Purposeful activities formed an important part of this, for example, still being engaged in paid or voluntary work, having caring responsibilities, or smaller incidental activities such as helping neighbours or walking for transport. Many also reported adapting previous, often lifelong, activity preferences and habits to their ageing body, or replacing them altogether with lower impact activities such as walking. This included adapting to the physical limitations of partners and friends which dictated the intensity and frequency of shared activities. The social context of activities could thus form a barrier to active living, but could also encourage it through companionship, social responsibilities and social pressures.

Conclusions Promoting and maintaining physical activity among older people may require more attention to activeness as an attitude and way of life as well as to its social context, and initiatives encouraging broader activity habits rather than discrete activities.

  • Physical activity
  • Ageing
  • Social context

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