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Lives, Time and Place: A Life Course Perspective on Earlier-Life Individual and Contextual Socioeconomic Conditions and Later-Life Physical Activity

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Lives, Time and Place: A Life Course Perspective on Earlier-Life Individual and Contextual Socioeconomic Conditions and Later-Life Physical Activity

By Yang Li

Framed within the life course and ecological perspectives, this study investigated the association between earlier-life individual and contextual socioeconomic conditions and later-life physical activity. The mediating role of later-life characteristics was also examined. Contemporary and historical Census data as well as three bi-annual waves of nationally representative panel data from the Understanding America Study (N=1,981) were used. Three types of physical activity were separately assessed: mild, moderate, and vigorous, to understand the effect of earlier-life circumstances on different types of physical activity over the life course. Multilevel growth curve models were used to address the research questions. A higher level of father’s education in respondents’ earlier life was associated with higher levels of mild (OR=1.13, p<.05) and moderate (OR=1.25, p<.001) physical activity in respondents’ later life. Growing up in a higher-poverty area was associated with lower levels of moderate (OR=0.95, p<.05) and vigorous (OR=0.95, p<.05) physical activity in later life. Better health status before the age of 16 was associated with a slower decline (OR=1.05, p<.05) in moderate physical activity in later life. The associations between other earlier-life circumstances and later-life physical activity were largely mediated by later-life characteristics. Findings underscore the long-term ramifications of earlier-life circumstances for later-life physical activity, emphasizing that human development is shaped by a confluence of individual and contextual conditions throughout the life course. Study findings suggest that interventions to promote physical activity at older ages would benefit from a perspective that takes into account the individual and contextual circumstances over the life course.