Physical activity, ageing & embodiment

  • old men running

With an ageing demographic profile in the UK, the pressure on healthcare services to manage age-related health and well-being challenges is mounting. Promoting the role of physical activity (PA) in leisure and encouraging older adults to maintain healthy lifestyles, therefore, are of key importance. With 46% of the military veteran community over 75 years of age, research focusing on retired service personnel’s lived embodied experiences of PA is particularly timely

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My doctoral study contributes fresh perspectives to the research on ageing, PA, leisure and identity, by combining figurational and symbolic interactionist theoretical concepts to examine twenty retired servicemen’s life experiences in relation to leisure, PA and ageing. Participants in this study were aged 60+ and members of the Royal British Legion (RBL). The qualitative research methods adopted in this study were: focus-groups, informal follow-up conversations (including telephone conversations), and informal observations, which, in combination, generated rich data. The theoretical framework and concepts were utilised to guide the analysis.

Results show that for participants old age can indeed be an isolating and a lonely experience. The RBL acts as a social support network, however, and for many it resembled the ‘we’-group/ ‘family’ identity that resonated so strongly with earlier experiences in the military figuration. Limited opportunities for older adults to take part in group-based exercise were acknowledged and although participants recognised the need for regular PA, their perceptions often centered upon the ‘felt’ limitations of the ageing body, particularly in contrast to their former ‘disciplined’, active, military bodies. Corporeal difficulties discouraged some from taking part in PA altogether, however, despite bodily restrictions, many ex-service personnel still endeavoured to stay physically active, and the data revealed the ‘quest for excitement’ that some of the men had sought since their retirement from the military figuration.

Findings suggest that coordinated efforts on the part of governments, policy makers, service providers, military institutions and the RBL, are required in order to challenge ageist stereotypes and promote leisure and PA opportunities for retired service personnel, which take into account their actual lived embodied experiences of exercise and PA.

Project Team


Rachel Williams        Prof Jaqui Allen-Collinson  


Prof Jacqui Briggs     Adam Evans 1

1 Department of Nutrition, Exercise & Sports, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

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