“Moving Forward”: Older Adult Motivations for Group-Based Physical Activity After Cancer Treatment

Kathleen A. Lynch, Alexis Merdjanoff, Donna Wilson, Lauren Chiarello, Jennifer Hay, Jun J. Mao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Engagement in physical activity (PA) post-treatment can improve health outcomes and quality of life among cancer survivors. The purpose of this study is to explore United States (US) older adult cancer survivors’ (OACS) reasons for engaging in group-based PA classes, to identify themes supporting exercise motivations in the context of cancer recovery. Methods: OACS participating in a fitness program at a large US comprehensive cancer center completed semi-structured interviews. Transcripts were analyzed using modified grounded theory, and demographic data were analyzed descriptively. Results: Modified grounded theory analysis (n = 25; age M = 70.92, SD = 10.82; 9 cancer types) identified individual rationales for exercise grounded in collective experience. Participants’ internal motivations for PA are shaped by the desire for control over an uncertain future and post-treatment body, obtained by literally “moving forward” post-cancer; this is supported by external motivations for social connections that present a positive model of survivorship, within a setting that instills confidence and safety. Conclusions: Exercise can be a way for older adults to tap into internal and external motivations that support cancer survivorship. Interventions that make explicit connections between exercise and cancer recovery, facilitate interpersonal interaction, and promote a sense of safety may be the most effective. The concepts identified in this study can inform the development of future interventions to improve long-term behavior change among OACS and evaluate existing PA programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)286-298
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Cancer
  • Motivation
  • Older adult
  • Physical activity
  • Qualitative
  • Survivorship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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