Phew! Pathways to Health, Exercise and Wellbeing: A Qualitative Study of Exercise 50+
Leisure, the product of increased economic affluence and cradle for consumerism has created the freedom to choose how to spend time within the confines of interests and resources available. However the effects on the body have not always been beneficial to health and wellbeing. For example increased choice and availability of food, added to more fluid eating patterns, have given rise to conditions in which obesity flourishes. Some leisure pursuits may promote sedentary behaviour threatening healthy living and risking the development of associated conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
It is within this context that UK Chief Medical Officers have issued exercise indicators to fscilitste health promotion and to measure levels of physical activity within the population. Findings suggest that many people do not meet these levels of activity in their daily lives. A particular focus of concern is for the growing mass of older people with whom decline and disease is traditionally associated.
The prescriptive nature of such guidelines takes no account that, regardless of age, people are not a homogeneous group. Neither does the advice recognise that exercise engagement is part of a process related to lifestyle choices. I argue that Pathways to Health, Exercise and Wellbeing are not a simple matter of ‘one size fits all’. Using data from the 50+ exercise classes that I lead I explore these processes and how choices are made. In my experience participants seek a ‘package’ of circumstances appropriate to their needs, interests and lifestyle. This often involves establishing a successful ‘partnership’ with the instructor and the exercise experience – a sense of belonging. When this happens the ‘pleasure’ experienced is both embodied and processual – the whole constituting a customised, individual pathway to health and wellbeing.