Journal Article


The Experience of Physical Activity and the Transition to Retirement: A Systematic Review and Integrative Synthesis of Qualitative and Quantitative Evidence

Published on 16 August 2012

Physical activity (PA) is beneficial for health and well-being in old age. However, PA has been shown to decrease as adults become older. The transition to old-age retirement has been recognised as a turning point for determining PA behaviour in later life. Interventions targeted at this critical transition period might therefore be effective in promoting an active lifestyle in retirement.

We recently systematically reviewed quantitative evidence on changes in PA across the transition to old-age retirement. Observational cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of free-living PA in all domains were included and no language or country restrictions were applied. To reflect the changing concept of retirement, we employed an exploratory approach to its definition and did not prescribe a specific age range. We synthesised the data using a semi-quantitative approach combined with a harvest plot for visualising the findings.

The review suggested that recreational PA increases with retirement, while no clear pattern emerged for overall PA. The impact of retirement on PA appeared to be moderated by socioeconomic status (SES), with PA (both recreational and overall) decreasing after retirement among adults from lower occupational groups but increasing or remaining the same among those retiring from higher occupational groups. A major limitation of the body of quantitative studies reviewed was the imprecise assessment of PA, which relied heavily on single questions or bespoke questionnaires of unknown validity.


19 electronic databases were searched and reference lists were checked, citations tracked and journals hand-searched to identify qualitative studies on PA around the transition to retirement, published between January 1980 and August 2010 in any country or language. Independent quality appraisal, data extraction and evidence synthesis were carried out by two reviewers using a stepwise thematic approach. The qualitative findings were integrated with those of the existing quantitative systematic review using a parallel synthesis approach.


Image of Inka Barnett

Inka Barnett

Research Fellow

Publication details

Barnett, I., Guell, C., and Ogilvie, D.
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, volume 97, issue 9


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