The barriers to physical activity participation for the sixty plus population in Wales: a critical examination of the Welsh Assembly Government's Free Swimming Initiative.
University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.
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Despite the overwhelming evidence of the physiological (Booth et o1.,2000; Warburton et al.,2006), psychological (Department of Health,2004a) and social (Carter,2005) benefits to be gained from regular physical activity participation, levels of engagement remain less than satisfactory (Department of Health, 2004; Welsh Assembly Govemment, [WAG] 2005; WAG, 2009). As a consequence, current health trends and the burden placed upon health care and associated services are considered unsustainable. In 2003/04, in an attempt to increase levels of activity amongst children and older people, the Welsh Assembly Government introduced the Free Swimming Initiative, the largest physical activity public health intervention in Wales. The rationale for free swimming for the 60+ age group was to improve the quality of life of older adults, to maintain independence and to provide impetus for the delivery of additional sport and physical activity opportunities for older people (WAG, 2005b). The current research focussed upon free swimming for older people and involved two separate studies. The first study involved a Wales-wide user survey (n:404) that intended to gain an understanding of opinions of the scheme and motivations for participation. It revealed that for the majority of individuals engagement in free swimming comprised only one small part of a generally healthy lifestyle and that the majority of participants had swum regularly prior to the inception of the scheme. The results of this initial study informed the development of the second study, qualitative research with non-users of the scheme in Abertillery, Blaenau Gwent. A single case study approach was developed which included a desk based study, six key stakeholder semi-structured interviews and twenty two interviews with non-users of the initiative. The sample of non-users revealed that antecedent constraints, for example a perception that they were too old to swim, precluded their participation in both physical activity per se and in swimming as an activity. The findings also highlight the difficulties associated with engaging individuals in the pre-contemplation and contemplation stages of change and the specially tailored and collaborative approach which is required to attract and engage hard to reach sectors of society.
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