Environmental Influences on Physical Activity in Rural Midwestern Adults: A Qualitative Approach

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Qualitative research can be used to examine multiple factors associated with physical activity and help practitioners identify language used by the rural adult population when discussing this behavior. Three focus groups were conducted among 19 residents of multiple towns in a rural Midwestern county to examine the language and influences on rural physical activity. Focus group members were asked to define physical activity, exercise, community, and neighborhood. They were asked about the activities they engaged in and facilitators and barriers to those activities. A guidebook was developed to capture major themes and common patterns that emerged in the responses to the topics discussed. The data were reviewed for repeated statements and points that were agreed on by multiple participants. Important factors associated with physical activity include the importance of social support and modeling physical activity behavior. Also, the influence of pets and children was important for engaging these adults in physical activity. The focus group members engaged in walking and bicycling in their neighborhood streets and community trails, and desired to see community buildings be open to the public for exercise. This study revealed contextual issues and culturally relevant language for practitioners to use in tailoring physical activity measurement tools or designing interventions for a rural adult population. Social support (specifically, seeing others being active and using pets as motivators for being active) and policy attitudes may be targeted for interventions to increase physical activity in rural adults.

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