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Maintenance and decline of physical activity during adolescence: insights from a qualitative study

Mathieu Bélanger1234*, Michelle Casey12, Marc Cormier12, Annie Laflamme Filion12, Geneviève Martin12, Stéphanie Aubut12, Philipe Chouinard12, Simon-Pierre Savoie12 and Jacinthe Beauchamp3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of family medicine, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada

2 Dieppe Family Medicine Unit, Dieppe, Canada

3 Centre de formation médicale du Nouveau-Brunswick, Moncton, Canada

4 Research Centre, Vitalité Health Network, Moncton, Canada

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:117  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-117

Published: 21 October 2011



Better knowledge on why some individuals succeed in maintaining participation in physical activity throughout adolescence is needed to guide the development of effective interventions to increase and then maintain physical activity levels. Despite allowing an in-depth understanding, qualitative designs have infrequently been used to study physical activity maintenance. We explored factors contributing to the maintenance and the decline of physical activity during adolescence.


Questionnaires were administered to 515 grade 10-12 students. The Physical Activity Questionnaire for Adolescents was used to determine physical activity level at the end of adolescence. An adapted version of this questionnaire was used to estimate physical activity in early adolescence. Among both genders, we identified participants who maintained a high level of physical activity since grade 7 and some whose activity level declined. For each category, groups of 10 students were randomly selected to take part in focus group discussions.


Seven focus groups with 5 to 8 participants in each were held. Both maintainers and decliners associated physical activity with positive health outcomes. Maintenance of physical activity was associated with supportive social environments and heightened feelings of competence and attractiveness. A decline in physical activity was associated with negative social validation, poor social support and barriers related to access.


Although maintainers and decliners associate physical activity with similar themes, the experiences of both groups differ substantially with regards to those themes. Taking both perspectives in consideration could help improve interventions to increase and maintain physical activity levels of adolescents.

qualitative; maintenance of physical activity; decline of physical activity; adolescence