Social support and the likelihood of maintaining and improving levels of physical activity: The Whitehall II Study

Anne Kouvonen, Roberto De Vogli, Mai Stafford, Martin J. Shipley, Michael G. Marmot, Tom Cox, Jussi Vahtera, Ari Väänänen, Tarja Heponiemi, Archana Singh-Manoux, Mika Kivimäki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Background: Evidence on the association between social support and leisure time physical activity (LTPA) is scarce and mostly based on cross-sectional data with different types of social support collapsed into a single index. The aim of this study was to investigate whether social support from the closest person was associated with LTPA. Methods: Prospective cohort study of 5395 adults (mean age 55.7 year 3864 men) participating in the British Whitehall II study. Confiding/emotional support and practical support were assessed at baseline in 1997-99 using the Close Persons Questionnaire. LTPA was assessed at baseline and follow-up in (2002-04). Baseline covariates included socio-demographic self-rated healt long-standing illnesse physical functioning and common mental disorders. Results: Among participants who reported recommended levels of LTPA at baselin those who experienced high confiding/emotional support were more likely to report recommended levels of LTPA at follow-up [odds ratio (OR): 1.39, 95 confidence interval (CI): 1.12-1.70 in a model adjusted for baseline covariates]. Among those participants who did not meet the recommended target of LTPA at baselin high confiding/emotional support was not associated with improvement in activity levels. High practical support was associated with both maintaining (OR: 1.34, 95 CI: 1.10-1.63) and improving (OR: 1.25, 95 CI: 1.02-1.53) LTPA levels. Conclusion: These findings suggest that emotional and practical support from the closest person may help the individual to maintain the recommended level of LTPA. Practical support also predicted a change towards a more active lifestyle. 2011. The Author(s)2011This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial us distributio and reproduction in any mediu provided the original work is properly cited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-518
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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