Physical activity in South Asians: an in-depth qualitative study to explore motivations and facilitators

Ruth Jepson*, Fiona M. Harris, Alison Bowes, Roma Robertson, Ghizala Avan, Aziz Sheikh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


People of South Asian backgrounds living in the UK have a five-fold increased risk of diabetes and a two-fold increased risk of heart disease when compared to the general population. Physical activity can reduce the risk of premature death from a range of conditions. The aim of the study was to explore the motivating and facilitating factors likely to increase physical activity for South Asian adults and their families, in order to develop successful interventions and services.

Methodology/Principal Findings
This was a qualitative study using focus groups and in-depth interviews. Participants were 59 purposively selected Bangladeshi-, Indian- and Pakistani-origin men and women with an additional 10 key informants. The setting was three urban areas of Scotland: Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. We undertook a theoretically informed thematic analysis of data. Study participants described engaging in a range of physical activities, particularly football and the gym for men, and walking and swimming for women. The main motivators for taking part in physical activity were external motivators – i.e. undertaking physical activity as a means to an end, which included the opportunities that physical activity provided for social activity and enjoyment. The goals of weight reduction and improving mental and physical health and were also mentioned. Role models were seen as important to inspire and motivate people to undertake activities that they may otherwise lack confidence in. Few people undertook physical activity for its own sake (intrinsic motivation).

Attempts at promoting physical activity in people of South Asian origin need to take account of the social context of people's lives and the external motivators that encourage them to engage in physical activity. Undertaking group based physical activity is important and can be facilitated through religious, community, friendship or family networks. Role models may also prove particularly helpful.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere45333
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


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