Meanings and motivations among older adult mall walkers: a qualitative analysis

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Virginia Tech

This study employed the grounded theory methodology suggested by Strauss and Corbin (1990) to analyze and explore the meaning of and motivation for mall walking among a group of older, rural, independently living adults. Interviews were conducted with 14 respondents aged 62-81 and participant observation was conducted at a rural mall.

Mall walking was initially motivated by three conditions: (a) expert-directed advice, (b) self-determined goals, and (c) the invitation of significant others. Four major factors encouraged continued participation in mall walking: (a) the need to create work roles after retirement, (b) fear due to perceived vulnerability in the community, (c) social supports from family and peers, and (d) a sense of membership in a community of older adults that was generally time and place specific. Members of this mall community shared activities, routines, rituals, beliefs, and a sense of belonging.

Despite medical disorders, all of the respondents said their health was good. After initially responding to medical advice to walk, walkers paid little or no attention to medical problems. These older adults did not continue to mall walk in response to expert medical direction. This finding suggests that health promoting activities should not rely on the continuing influence of medical advice to encourage adherence or ongoing participation in health promoting activities, and should instead attend to the social constructs of health and wellness.

An important implication for future research is the finding that mall walking was a quasi-work activity, not exercise. Walkers created "work" routines and roles that replaced those lost upon retirement. The equation of mall walking with work has implications for both the design and the implementation of health promoting activities for older adults.