Social Networks and Physical Activity in Senior Housing: A Pilot Feasibility Study

Objective: Only 16% of people aged >65 years engage in recommended levels of physical activity, putting a vast major­ity at risk for multiple chronic conditions including heart disease. Physical activity is even lower among older adults with fewer economic resources. Research is needed to develop context-specific approaches to pair with physical activity interventions to increase effectiveness. In this pilot study, we examine social ties and physical activity levels of older adults living in a US Depart­ment of Housing and Urban Development subsidized senior housing community to test feasibility of a social network-based approach to physical activity interventions. This study is grounded in Social Contagion Theory and the Convoy Model of Social Relations, which argue health and health-related behaviors are facilitated through network ties.Methods: Data were collected through face-to-face interviews conducted over the course of three months (September- November 2018) with 46 residents living in a low-income senior housing community in southeast Michigan. Residents were asked about physical activity, people they know in the community, and their close social network composition.Results: Residents reported knowing, on average, six other residents and approxi­mately 28% of those in their close networks were also residents. Sociocentric network analysis identified two socially engaged (known by seven or more other residents) physically active residents, whereas ego-centric analysis identified four (60% or more of their network comprised residents).Conclusions: This study demonstrates potential feasibility of a strategic partnership that involves pairing social resources with physical activity interventions in afford­able senior housing. Multiple approaches, which need to be evaluated, exist to identify socially engaged residents.Ethn Dis. 2019;29(Suppl 1): 201-208; doi:10.18865/ed.29.S1.201.