Faculty Advisor

Joseph A. Mikels, Ph.D.


Approximately 75% of active adults in the U.S. do not meet the recommended levels of overall physical activity (CDC, 2021a). Given the beneficial impact of physical activity on health, an 8-week long, evidence-based group exercise program—Fit & Strong! (F&S!)—was created to improve the health of older adults (Hughes et al., 2004, 2006, 2010). Despite the clear physical benefits of F&S!, it remains unknown what motivates F&S! participants to initially participate in the program and also throughout the program. Drawing from core notions of socioemotional selectivity theory (SST; Carstensen, 2006), research has found that older adults are highly motivated to exercise by social goals (Steltenpohl et al., 2019). In other work, Fredrickson (2016) has proposed that positivity resonance—a caring interpersonal connection involving shared positivity and synchrony—is impactful in enhancing psychological and physiological wellbeing, and may play a central role in the quality of the older adults’ exercise experiences. As such, we investigated the extent to which health, social, and emotional factors motivated older adults to participate in F&S!, as well as the presence of positivity resonance during the program itself. Results indicated that (1) F&S! is most important to older adults for health and social reasons relative to emotional reasons, and (2) older adults, within the context of group exercise, experienced high levels of positivity resonance. These findings highlight the importance of how emphasizing both the social and health benefits of group exercise may be leveraged to motivate and maintain intentions to exercise for older adults.