Exercise Behavior, Facilitators and Barriers among Socio-economically Disadvantaged African American Young Adults

Maria Kosma, David R. Buchanan


Background: Although exercise participation has numerous benefits among young adults, socio-economically disadvantaged ethnic minorities tend to be less active than their White counterparts of higher SES. Instead of relying on logical positivism in exercise promotion, a phronetic (humanistic) approach may better assist with understanding exercise behavior. Objective: The study purpose was to examine the exercise behavior and qualitatively distinct exercise values (e.g., activity and inactivity reasons) among socio-economically disadvantaged African American young adults. Method: This was a phronetic, qualitative study among 14 African American young adults (Mage = 32.97 years old ±14.13), who attended General Educational Development classes in an inner-city learning center. An in-depth and dialogical interview process was conducted regarding exercise behavior, positive and negative exercise experiences, reasons for exercise participation or not, exercise behavior of participants’ peers and significant others, and neighborhood safety. Results: Only three men met the minimum aerobic exercise recommendations and their main activity was basketball. Three individuals were somewhat active, while the rest of the participants were inactive. Based on the phronetic, thematic analysis, two themes emerged. Exercise facilitators included enjoyment (from skill and fitness development in a playful setting), health improvement, weight loss and toned physique, and utilitarian purpose (i.e., karate to work for campus security). Exercise barriers included time constraints and other priorities (school, work, caretaking), injuries, accessibility and cost issues, safety issues (unsafe neighborhoods), personality (lack of motivation and self-discipline), and undesirable results on appearance and performance. Conclusion: Exercise promoters should emphasize: a) playful, culturally meaningful, and socially supported activities to increase fitness, skill development, and enjoyment; b) policy change via the provision of parental leave for both parents; c) safe and accessible exercise settings, especially among women of lower SES; d) information about safe exercises and injury recovery; and e) fit and healthy physiques for personal fulfilment and enjoyment.


African Americans, social justice, exercise, culture, physical fitness

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