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    What explains the well-being benefits of physical activity? A mixed-methods analysis of the roles of participation frequency and social identification

    Inoue, Yuhei ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1983-6217, Lock, Daniel, Sato, Mikihiro, Aizawa, Kurumi, Mikura, Akane, Kohno, Natsumi and Ogasawara, Etsuko (2024) What explains the well-being benefits of physical activity? A mixed-methods analysis of the roles of participation frequency and social identification. Social Science and Medicine, 340. 116454. ISSN 0277-9536

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    Objective Physical activity in a social setting is said to be associated with well-being because it provides opportunities for participants to form social relationships. However, there are inconsistent findings regarding the well-being benefits of participating in physical activity with others. To address this inconclusive evidence, we draw on the social identity approach to health and well-being to examine whether (a) the frequency of physical activity participation in a social setting and (b) the degree of social identification associated with it, have different relationships with participants’ well-being. Methods We implemented a two-phase, mixed-methods design with members of women's only fitness clubs in Japan. In Study 1, we collected survey responses about social identification, life satisfaction, and eudaimonic well-being from 1118 members. The survey data were combined with respondents' objective participation data from a membership database. In Study 2, we interviewed a sample of club members to understand how the nature of social relationships differed depending on the degree of their social identification. Results Study 1 found that social identification with a fitness club, but not the frequency of attending the club for physical activity, was positively associated with members’ well-being. Study 2 revealed that members with high social identification experienced more affective relationships with other members than those with medium or low identification. Conclusions Our research provides quantitative and qualitative evidence supporting the association between social identification and the well-being benefits of physical activity in a social setting. It confirms the predictions of the social identity approach to health and well-being, demonstrating that people enjoy well-being benefits from physical activity participation when it is internalized as a meaningful definition of self.

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