Citation
The Colorado enthusiast

Material Information

Title:
The Colorado enthusiast understanding the relationship of physical and social environment in physically active Colorado adults
Creator:
Fluharty, Lyndsay
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
vi, 39 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Physically active people -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Exercise -- Social aspects -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Exercise -- Social aspects ( fast )
Physically active people ( fast )
Social conditions ( fast )
Social conditions -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Colorado ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 32-39).
General Note:
Department of Sociology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Lyndsay Fluharty.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
757721445 ( OCLC )
ocn757721445
Classification:
LD1193.L66 2011m F58 ( lcc )

Full Text
THE COLORADO ENTHUSIAST: UNDERSTANDING THE RELATIONSHIP
OF PHYSICAL AND SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT IN PHYSICALLY
ACTIVE COLORADO ADULTS
By:
Lyndsay Fluharty
B.S.. Ashland University, 2002
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
for the degree of
Master of Arts
Sociology
2011


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Lyndsay Fluharty
has been approved by
Candan Duran-Aydintug
Stacey Bosick
R. i{- 2,0(1
Date


Fluharty, Lyndsay (M.A., Sociology)
The Colorado Enthusiast: Understanding the Relationship of Physical and Social
Environment in Physically Active Colorado Adults
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Patrick Krueger
ABSTRACT
Physical inactivity has become a major problem in America and is tied to the
increase rates of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers. Of all states,
Colorado ranks as one of the lowest in terms of physical inactivity and is the only
state with an obesity rate under twenty percent. To understand what sets Colorado
apart, this study looks at the influence of the social and physical environment on an
individuals physical activities. A total of sixteen Colorado adults were recruited to
participate in a thirty minute face-to-face interview, all of which were digitally
recorded and transcribed verbatim. Open-ended questions probed participants to
discuss how their social and physical environments influence their types of physical
activities. Participants were not given constraining definitions of social or physical
environment and results indicate there is more to each environment than what has
typically been measured in past research. Participants talked about the influence of
simply seeing other community members being physically active a visual support.
In relation to physical environment, participants discussed the importance of the
natural environment and being outdoors. The findings suggest a new conceptual
understanding of social and physical environment when looking at individuals
health behaviors.
This abstract accurately represents^the contents of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
Patrick Krueger


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to all my family and friends with whom I hope to enjoy the
beautiful natural environment now that this thesis is complete.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I would like to thank my advisor. Patrick, for his always entertaining advising as
well as his countless contributions throughout my research. I would also like to
thank my committee and interviewees for their time and effort.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION..............................................1
Physical Activity.......................................3
Social Environment......................................5
Physical Environment....................................7
Aim....................................................10
2. METHODS...................................................12
Participants...........................................12
Interviews and Interview Protocol......................13
Analysis...............................................14
3. FINDINGS..................................................16
The Playground Seeker..................................16
The Unknown Runner.....................................19
The Health Hugger......................................23
4. DISCUSSION................................................26
Strengths and Limitations..............................27
Conclusion.............................................28
APPENDIX...........................................................30
REFERENCES


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Epidemiologists have established that incorporating physical activity into
one's lifestyle is beneficial for a multitude of reasons (Pratt, Epping, and Dietz
2009). Benefits of regular physical activity include longevity, stronger bones and
muscles, weight control, as well as decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high
blood pressure (Warburton, Nicol. and Bredin 2006). According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, over half of the US adult population does not meet
the recommended levels of physical activity (Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention 2011). Besides the individual-level consequences related to lack of
physical activity, the potential health issues associated with physical inactivity have
a major economic impact on families, communities, and the entire United States'
health care system (Smith 2009). Recently, federal programs like Healthy People
2020 have been developed to promote physical activity in the United States and
encourage nationwide awareness of the benefits that come from healthier lifestyles.
Although 'lifestyles' is an extremely broad term for health behaviors,
Cockerham notes that "many daily lifestyle practices involve considerations of
health outcomes" (2005:51). An individual's health lifestyle is their pattern of
behavior made up of decisions available to them in their environment (Cockerham
2005). Lifestyles are a collective pattern of behaviors that one person might have.
1


but an individual's lifestyle is also shaped by social circumstances (Bourdieu 1977).
Throughout this research. I will utilize a similar understanding of the term lifestyles
in relation to health behaviors. Lifestyles of many individuals make up a social
environment which in turn is capable of influencing those who are a part of that
environment. Thus, in understanding lifestyle and health behavior, it is important to
look at the major components of environment.
When looking at health lifestyles, research in the area of physical activity and
exercise tends to focus either on physical environment (McCormack et al. 2010;
Saelens, Sallis. and Frank 2003) or social context (Marquez and McAuley 2006;
Orsega-Smith et al. 2007), rather than examining how both social and physical
environment together shape physical activity. Also, the research is restricted by
specific and narrow measurements that do not fully capture the social aspect of
physical activity (Sallis et al. 1987). Environmental sociology research has found
that individuals do have differing views of the natural environment based on the
meaning they give it (Stedman 2003). but this research is rarely combined with
health research. In this study. I use qualitative methods to develop a deeper
understanding of the importance of social environment and physical environment in
relation to individuals' leisure time physical activity. Focusing specifically on
Colorado adults, my findings help to explain the active lifestyle of what I call the
Colorado Enthusiast. I have developed three key lifestyle components of the


Colorado Enthusiast which help to illuminate the importance of social and physical
environment in one's life.
Physical A ctivitv
Individuals do not exercise simply to bum calories or build muscles; they
exercise for the health related benefits that come from burning calories and building
muscle. People exercise not just for the physical health benefits, but for the mental
benefits as well. Research has found psychological reasons for exercising are
increased self esteem, reduction of stress, a boost of energy or an overall feeling of
calmness (Prichard and Tiggemann 2007). I suggest it is possible to take it beyond
the physical and mental reasons though people exercise for the pure enjoyment of
being physically active. I propose this enjoyment comes from the combination of
one's social and physical environment. There is a gap in past research measuring
physical activity because it does not completely capture the importance of these
environmental influences in relation to health behaviors. In order to fully understand
an individual's health behaviors. I believe it is necessary to look at how social factors
and the physical environment play a role in their physieal activity.
At least 30 different measurement techniques have been used to evaluate
individuals' physical activity levels (Laporte 1989). Health behavior research
focused on time, amount, and intensity of physical activity is of significance to
epidemiologists, but the social and environmental dimensions of physical activity are
missing from these measurements. The plethora of measurement techniques


ultimately says nothing about an individual's personal understanding of how or why
they do physical activity. If two people were to report that they exercised for 30
minutes five days a week, epidemiologists would presume these two people were
healthy. From this small amount of information though, we know nothing about
where the individuals exercised, who they exercised with, or why they even
exercised. I posit these additional aspects of physical activity are equally important
in understanding health behaviors. In using epidemiological scales and
measurements, the social significance of exercise in one's lifestyle is absent and the
physical environment is completely ignored.
Other areas of sociological research focused on physical activity include
sport sociology and sociology of leisure time. From sport sociology, we have
learned that sports are institutionalized social structures made up of social actions
and interactions that create a competitive game (Nixon 2010) and that there is a
disconnect in gender roles when looking at participation in sports (Laurendeau and
Sharara 2008). From sociology of leisure time, prior research has found that there
are sociodemographic differences related to leisure-time exercise behavior (Wilson
2002: Kandula and Lauderdale 2005). Combining the two fields of sociology,
researchers have also found social factors to influence whether individuals prefer to
be physically active alone or with others (Wilson and Spink 2009). Although this
research helps to understand issues related to physical activities, it does not tend to
focus on the health importance of physical activity. Physical activity and health go
4


hand in hand, but ultimately there is more to health than just being physically active.
This is where I believe it is important to take social and physical environment into
consideration to fully understand health behaviors.
Research using ecological models has established that there is a connection
between environment and health (Stokols 1992) and that environmental factors play
an important role in determining physical activity levels (Baker et al. 2000), but
these studies fail to address the social meaning related to health behaviors. The
social meaning of exercise and physical activity is important because it is so tightly
intertwined with individuals' health behaviors. Understanding both the social and
physical environment aspects of physical activity will give researchers the tools to
promote healthy lifestyles and thus to ensure a healthy society, in this research. I
have allowed individuals to articulate how social environment shapes their physical
activities as well as how the physical environment plays a role in these activities.
Social Environment
By allowing individuals to describe how social support is important in their
own lives, my research extends the concept of social environment beyond the
standard measurements typically thought to make up social environment. The
current conceptualization of social environment falls short when attempting to
understand the influence of the social support on one's physical activity levels.
Social environment extends beyond the typically assumed close ties of social groups
and into the realm of one's visual social environment. What an individual sees on a


day to day basis works as a type of visual discourse in influencing one's lifestyle
behaviors. Using this understanding of social environment, 1 will construct a new
conceptual framework of social environment which ultimately will lend to a better
understanding of health behaviors.
Social support and social networks are two tightly intertwined concepts that
are well recognized in the literature as the major components of social environment,
although there is a lack of conceptual agreement as to the overall definition (Pearson
1986). In performing a literature review, Williams, Barclay, and Schmied (2004)
found 30 definitions of social support, but found most often social support is seen as
the resources both mental and physical provided by individuals' social networks.
Social networks can include friends, family, co-workers and other institutions an
individual considers him or herself to be a part of. Because of the complexity related
to defining social support, the true influence of social environment is a difficult and
complicated concept to measure. What is often missing from the literature is the
social influence of individuals outside of one's social network such as that of the
visual influence I posit to be of equal importance.
In relation to health behaviors, past studies have shown social environment to
have an important effect on ones health lifestyle. Quantitative research has
indicated social relationships influence health behavior choices (Stahl 2001) and that
positive perceptions of one's social environment are associated w ith higher levels of
physical activity (Kawachi, Kennedy, and Glass 1999). but these studies do not
6


explain how physical activity is socially perceived by individuals. Limited questions
and Likert scales are often used to rate one's perception of their social support, but
these studies supply only a limited understanding of social support. Where past
research has limited social environment to an individuals social network thus
capturing only a narrow perception of social support, I extend the idea of social
support to that of what one sees and is influenced by in their everyday life.
In this study. I explore both the positive and negative effects of social
environment in relation to individuals' physical activity by asking interviewees to
explain various social influences in their lives. Differing from past research, I have
allowed individuals to express their own perceptions of the social world in which
they live. This qualitative method helped to provide insights into the salient
dimensions of their lives, which thus has added a new meaning to how social
environment should be studied and measured.
Physical Environment
Every person belongs to a physical environment of some sort; what exactly
makes up one's physical environment is not as straightforward. Often, the physical
environment is seen as an individual's proximal surroundings, although there is no
exact definition as to what determines proximity. In relation to health behaviors,
most studies looking at the importance of physical environment tend to focus on
proximal characteristics. I propose this narrow view of physical environment
consequently limits the understanding of the overall environmental influence on
7


one's health behaviors. Past research has failed to look beyond proximal
surroundings to truly examine the magnitude of physical environment in connection
with health behaviors. Also, 1 believe amenities that the natural environment has to
offer are important in understanding people's health behaviors, but are often
overlooked when looking at people's physical activity level. This oversight has left
a gap in the literature, thus causing a lack of understanding of the importance of
nature in one's health behaviors.
Like social environment, physical environment has been measured many
different w'ays in a variety of studies and most studies tend to focus on neighborhood
characteristics (Schaefer-McDaniel et al. 2010). Common variables used to evaluate
physical environment often include neighborhood quality, crime and perception of
safety, walkabilitv, access to services, and closeness to park space and other public-
use facilities (Van Cauwenberg et al. 2011). Research has found that neighborhood
circumstances and health are highly correlated (Yen et al 2009). but further research
has also found that most people do not spend all of their time only in their
neighborhood and often have daily routines that take them out of their neighborhood
setting (Cummins et al. 2007). This seems to confirm that neighborhood cannot be
the only location that defines one's physical environment. Although neighborhood
characteristics are linked to health, they are not the only aspect of physical
environment that should be studied to understand the importance of environment in
relation to one's health behaviors.
8


Environmental sociology research has looked at individuals' perceptions of
wilderness and found that people have various viewpoints as to what nature's
importance is to humans (Gomez-Pompa and Kaus 1992). In asking people to write
three words they would use to describe wilderness. Bertolas (1998) found descriptors
ranging from peace of mind to hunting as well as ancestors to uninhabited. This
wide range of responses indicates the diversity of views people have about the
w ilderness, but research is limited w hen linking perception of the physical
environment to health behaviors.
Research has found that interacting with outdoor habitats such as gardens or
actively participating with nature such as bird watching promotes improved health
and perceived quality of life (Hansen-Ketchum et al 2009). Further research has
found that simply viewing nature from a window in hospitals and prisons provides
individuals with additional health benefits (Kaplan and Kaplan 2003). Although this
research is gaining credibility in the health care industry, most of it is not focused
specifically on physical activity. By focusing on overall health rather than physical
activity, past literature has overlooked the importance of understanding the role of
nature in relation to individual's physical activity levels.
Prior research narrowly defines physical environment, consequently missing
v aluable aspects of a broader conceptual idea of environment. Natural environments
such as mountains, forests, and water features tend to be overlooked, thus causing a
gap in information regarding the relationship of natural environment to health
9


behaviors. By asking people their understanding of environment and the meaning of
nature specific to them, this research will expand the concept of physical
environment in order to fully understand the importance of environment in relation
to physical activity.
Walking, running, and strength training are standard activities used to
measure exercise, but the Colorado Rocky Mountains offer residents a unique natural
environment with an abundance of opportunities to participate in outdoor physical
activity. The state of Colorado is known for its accessibility to millions of acres of
national parks, forests, and recreational areas that provide numerous outdoor
activities such as hiking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding. The
distinctive physical environment of Colorado provides residents w ith activities that
are not the standard type of exercise in most states, but ultimately seems to be
important in understanding the health of its residents.
A im
The aim of this study is to gain a better understanding of the relationship
between the physical and social environment and the physical activity of Coloradans.
Starting in 1984. the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created the
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) as a way to collect
information related to health behaviors and to help identify newly developing health-
related problems. Using this data. Colorado is seen as one of the states w ith the
lowest levels of physical inactivity which could possibly explain why Colorado is
10


currently the only state with an obesity rate under 20 percent (Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention 2011). Given that Colorado has a unique natural
environment that facilitates outdoor exercise and "a culture of physical activity"
(Dietz 2010), Colorado represents an interesting population that seems to fully
embody these complex connections.
Studies concerning social environment, physical environment and health are
not limited to the United States: growing global health concerns have several
countries evaluating these variables. Quantitative studies have given statistics and
figures that highlight these associations, but research is lacking when it comes to
examining how and why social and physical environment affect one's health
behaviors. Using a qualitative approach, the purpose of this study is to explore how'
social and physical environment shape physical activity in Colorado adults.
Constraining definitions of social and physical environment limit the complexity of
understanding exercise and physical activity within an individual's lifestyle and few
studies have explored the multifaceted relationship of these variables. This
qualitative study will identify how individuals understand physical activity and how
social and physical environments play a role in that understanding. This study will
also contribute to the development of a new' conceptual framework for future studies.


CHAPTER 2
METHODS
I used a qualitative approach in the design, data collection, and analysis of
this research in order to develop a deeper understanding of the connection between
physical and social environment in relation to individuals' health behaviors.
Interviews consisted of open-ended questions and were used as a way to provide the
opportunity for new ideas and previously overlooked concepts. In this qualitative
research, it is important to note how I have situated myself in analyzing this data. 1
consider myself to be an active person. I have played sports my whole life; I even
played basketball at the collegiant level. I now live in Colorado and partake in the
numerous outdoor activities this state has to offer. Being that I cannot ignore my
personal perspective, I offer it as my analytical lens being used in this research.
Participants
Given the exploratory nature of the study and the assumption that the
physical environment does play a role in the physical activity of Coloradans, I sought
out participants who were physically active. To find individuals who use the natural
environment to be physically active. I chose specific locations relating to outdoor
activities for my participant recruitment. A few such locations were Colorado ski
resorts, trail heads, city parks, and outdoor public spaces. I presumed that by
selecting individuals who are physically active, it would be easier to understand the
12


meanings that emerged as to how they interact with the environment and their friends
and family. These active individuals were able to provide the most insight into how
they use the physical environment for activities and how their social environment
plays a role in their activities.
In total, sixteen participants were recruited from these locations. Their age
ranged from 25 to 46. Seven participants were male, nine were female. All
participants were white. I did not specifically ask about any other demographic
variables, but when talking about their past, all but one participant mentioned time
spent in college; three specifically mentioned graduate school.
Interviews and Interview Protocol
I conducted interviews in a face-to-face setting and followed a semi-
structured. in-depth interview schedule. Each interview was approximately 30
minutes in length and was audio-recorded. All interviews took place in an
interviewer-interviewee mutually agreed upon location, safe and appropriate for
research purposes. Most of the time, interviews were conducted at the same place as
the recruitment location. Due to the minimal risks associated with the study, the
Colorado Multiple Institutional Review' Board qualified the research as exempt,
meaning participants did not need to give written consent prior to the interviews. I
informed participants of the research topic and made them aware that the choice to
participate was solely their own. I also informed participants they could stop the
interview at any time or refrain from answering any question. I have changed
13


participants' names to protect their confidentiality and any information that could
possibly reveal their identity has been concealed as well.
The interview schedule (see Appendix A) focused on questions related to
individual's physical activity, social environment and personal perceptions of the
natural environment. Questions regarding physical activity included how
participants feel they get their exercise, what outdoor activities they participate in
and how long they have been doing them. These questions then lead into questions
regarding the significance of where the participants live and how they perceive the
importance of where they live in relation to their physical activities. Questions also
probed participants about the importance of their social network when it comes to
their physical activities. Participants were asked how friends and family either
support or hinder their activities. Open-ended questions helped to extract views and
opinions from the perspective of the interview subjects that would not be possible in
quantitative research.
Analysis
During the interviews. 1 took tieldnotes which I later referred to in the
analysis process. I also created verbatim transcripts of the digitally recorded
interviews. As the interviews continued. I found various concepts begin to come
forward. I continued to follow the interview' schedule, but focused my questions on
these emerging concepts to be sure to fully grasp the importance of these relevant
ideas. By reading and rereading the interview transcripts and tieldnotes. I was able
14


to determine unifying concepts seen throughout the interviews that I then used to
develop three typologies pertaining to the meaning of the physical and social
environment in each participant's active lifestyle. As I continued to read the
transcripts, I identified even more specific themes that could be categorized into one
of the three typologies. I gave each typology a name that I thought would capture
the overall theoretical meaning of the typology and also provide a plav-on-words to
capture the reader's interest.
Theoretical saturation was determined as participants began to articulate the
same concepts and no new information was observed. Interviews continued to take
place until the typologies were felt to be fully developed and themes were
consistently supported. I did all of the conceptual coding as well as the development
of typologies and themes, but had other graduate students and professors read
through my findings to ensure the validity of my results.


CHAPTER 3
THE COLORADO ENTHUSIAST
The Colorado Enthusiast is someone who wants to be outdoors, playing and
having fun. The Colorado Enthusiast is influenced by the activities of not only their
friends, but also the activities of people they do not know, but simply see in day-to-
day life. The Colorado Enthusiast has an immense appreciation for nature and the
overall health that comes from being a part of the natural environment. Together,
these qualities make up a profile of the type of person who enjoys living in Colorado
and lives a healthy lifestyle.
The Playground Seeker
The Colorado Enthusiast looks at the natural environment as a playground.
The state of Colorado has ten national parks and monuments, eleven national forests,
and forty-two national wilderness areas with thousands of miles of trails which
provide access to mountains, canyons, rivers, and streams for the public to use.
Coloradans look at these parks the same way as a child running out the door at lunch
recess a playground. For Coloradans, the unique physical environment provides
enjoyment and a place to do fun things. The playground represents the fun outdoors
that provides a place for recreation and happiness. Rather than simply viewing the
mountains and wilderness as breathtaking scenery. Coloradans look at the mountains
16


and want to be on them or look at the wilderness and want to be in it. Danielle, a
Colorado native, describes her view of the mountains -
I think theyre beautiful and that's something I didn't
always appreciate, but for me it's more like I see them and
I want to be there now.
Coloradans see the outdoors as a place of recreation. Coloradans prefer to
spend their free time outdoors and many times they choose to be physically active
while outdoors. Rather than climbing jungle gyms or running in circles like kids on
a playground, Colorado adults climb mountains or run on trails. The fun that comes
from exercising in nature is how Coloradoans spend their leisure time. To be
outdoors and in nature is sought after by Colorado Enthusiasts. Peter talks about
running on trails rather than in the city -
Running up hill is really hard and it really stresses your
capacity, your cardiovascular capacity. And then there's
just being in the mountains. I think it's more just being in
the mountains. I'm not. like, a good runner. It's more
mental really being in the mountains. Being on dirt.
For many Coloradans, it is a priority to be outside and take advantage of the
unique physical environment that is available to them. Although not all Coloradans
live in close proximity to the mountains and other natural amenities, residents make
an effort to get out of their smaller, local environment and into the natural
environment. While, in a sense, an effort is being made to be outdoors, Coloradoans
would hardly call it in effort. It is a necessity Don. who trains for triathlons year-
round. tells of the importance of being outdoors -
17




I've got to be outside. The coolest thing that I found is I
joined the Rocky Mountain Athletic Club and they have an
outdoor lap pool that's open year round. So I swim outside
in January. I can swim outside year round and that is key
because I hate being inside.
The idea of the Colorado landscape being a playground typifies how residents
of Colorado view their environment. The unique environment offers numerous
activities that are not available in many other states, thus supporting a culture of fun.
outdoor activities. The physical environment of Colorado draws people who want to
play on this theoretical playground. Jackie, an avid road biker, describes what she
thinks of Colorado -
1 think it's just that we have this incredible playground.
You know? So we can play here ... I think I would have
done different activities if I grew up somewhere else. 1
think the culture is really focused on being active and there
are a lot of things to do. You can always go biking or
skiing or it just seems the weather supports being outside
most of the year. The weather is a huge thing.
As Jackie mentioned, tied in with the playground concept is the weather. All
respondents mentioned the importance of weather in one way or another. Colorado
claims to have 300 days of annual sunshine, thus providing ample opportunity to be
outdoors and enjoy the nature playground. For Coloradans, countless days of
sunshine are not the only positive weather characteristic snow in the winter is
equally as important. Many interviewees mentioned their appreciation for different
activities that are available throughout the year due to the weather. Since being
outdoors is so important to the people of Colorado, good weather is practically a
18


necessity. Understanding weather as an amenity can help explain how Coloradans
view their environment as well. Michelle explains how the good weather influences
people's activities -
I think Colorado more than any other place we have so
much sunshine. I think people really feel guilty hanging
out inside and feel like they have to be outside doing
something. So. being outside is a big part of the culture
and learning new things. You can rock climb, you can
kayak down the creek, there are so many different things to
do and Colorado has so much to offer.
Not only does the good weather allow for more time to play outdoors: it also
provides happiness for certain individuals. Ryan expresses the importance of the sun
to him -
1 love the sun. If I was in a place that wasn't as sunny I
probably wouldn't be as happy as I am. So, to get out and
be in the sun is probably one of the biggest factors of
anywhere I would live.
The Unknown Runner
While going about everyday life, the Colorado Enthusiast sees a runner
outside, being active, and is subconsciously influenced by this active person.
Although the runner is not known by most people who see her. she still acts as a type
of social influence over those w ho see her. And. it is not just runners: there are
bikers, hikers, skiers, climbers, and people with yoga mats who by just being active
persuade other Coloradans to do the same. The unknown runner acts as visual
motivation for other residents of Colorado. The unknown runner represents the
19


expanded concept of social environment that ultimately plays a role in the lifestyle of
the Colorado Enthusiast.
In the sociological literature, friendships and social networks are known to
play a major role in an individual's health behavior. This is true for Coloradans as
well. Interviewees expressed social ties as a positive influence on their physical
activity levels. Sharing a similar lifestyle as their friends provides individuals with
someone to be active with. Jason, who doesn't have a car, talks about the
importance of friends in his life -
I would probably have a much tougher time getting to the
mountains without my friends. Yea. they provide rides and
they also provide people to ride with. And, I really enjoy
[snowboard] riding with people rather than by myself.
Also, exercise for Coloradans is not seen as competitive: rather friends and
family push each other to be active. This inclusive setting allows for individuals to
enjoy being active rather than feel as though they are not good enough to compete.
Danielle explains how she shares similar interests with her friends. Rather than
acting as direct competition, her friends motivate her to stay active and provide her
with someone to be active -
I do a lot of those things with them because they have a
similar lifestyle to me ... I feel like it's more so that they
more so push me. I'm competitive, so if they're going to
go do something I'm going to too. I don't know. I don't
have very many sedentary people in my life. So. no. they
don't hold me back. They motivate me.
20


Interestingly, when interviewees were asked to self-rank how physically
active they are (on a 1 to 5 Likert scale), many did not rank themselves the highest.
When asked why. they would say it is because they are not as active as other people
in Colorado. In this sense, knowing other Coloradans are so active acts as
motivation for others to be active as well. Rather than feeling a sense of exclusion
from those who are extremely active, the knowledge that so many people are active
works inclusively to advocate a culture of physical activity. Molly illustrates this in
the following -
LF: On the 1 to 5 scale, how physically active would you
say you are?
Molly: I'd say I'm a 4.
LF: And what went through your head to give yourself that
number?
Molly: In New York or Ohio, I'd probably be a 5 but by
Colorado standards I'm probably a 4. That's what went
through my head. I work out and exercise most days of the
week and definitely do something every day on the
weekends, but I'm not as intense as most Colorado people
are. I don't ride 50 miles on my bike every day or anything
like that, so Fm not a 5. But. I do get exercise in most days
of the week.
Peter has a similar take on his ranking in terms of living in Colorado -
1 don't do, like. Iron Man type stuff. It's interesting that
our living here, a 5 is like 'Oh my god. you run 100 miles
and you do Iron Man triathlon' kind of things. And I don't
do that. I ride my bike to work and school every day. I
run, trail run. I bike. I do yoga. That would be a 5
probably in Mississippi.
21


Unlike past social network literature. I have found that there is more to social
support for Coloradans than simply social ties. There is an overall visual social
environment that plays a role in the behavior of those that see it. In Colorado, the
visually public consciousness of outdoor activities motivates people they see and do
not even know'.
A Colorado resident's social environment is more than just the friends and
family around them: it is also the thousands of other residents that can be seen in the
outdoor public space. Despite not knowing these residents personally, seeing them
participating in outdoor activities acts in the same way as what is typically seen as
social support in sociology literature. This unique aspect of social support is a form
of encouragement for those who see the many unknown runners. Danielle, who lives
right next to a major city park, highlights this idea of social encouragement -
I don't want to be someone who brings down the active
lifestyle of Colorado. It's contagious When I sit on my
porch and see people running around and around and I
haven't worked out yet today, it makes me feel like I need
to be doing that also.
Esther also notices how office talk around the water cooler influences co-workers'
activities -
I think that it's just because you're surrounded by people
who do all these other things. Like, my office is a very
active office Everybody that I meet that moves here in
my office ends up doing a triathlon by the end of their first
year or they buy a road bike or bought a ski pass for the
first time. I think even if it's not the reason they moved
here, they end up getting involved in it anyway because
-n


they just hear about everybody else doing it and they want
to do it too.
Knowing the health behaviors of individuals within one's social network
definitely has an effect on the Colorado Enthusiast's lifestyle. More importantly
though, and what sets Colorado apart, are the active, unknown individuals. To the
Colorado Enthusiast, these nameless individuals influence the activities and health
behaviors of Coloradans. At the same time, the Colorado Enthusiast then too
becomes an unknown runner, influencing the activities of those who see him/her.
The Health Hugger
The heath hugger much like the proverbial tree hugger loves health. For
the Colorado Enthusiast, loving health is a way of life. Coloradans live a healthy life
because they truly like the way being healthy makes them feel. The happiness they
feel from being physically active, the enjoyment of being healthy, and the ability to
use the natural environment for activities is what makes the Colorado Enthusiast
unique. The health hugger exercises purely for the enjoyment of the exercise and the
happiness that comes from it. When asked why she likes to be active. Jackie simply
states. "'Just being healthy and feeling good."
Health huggers are aware of the importance of exercise, but do not exercise
for the sole reason of burning calories or building muscle mass. For people of
Colorado, there is more to health than just measurable health data. The outdoor
environment and the possibilities it has to offer act as a motivating factor in terms of


their physical activity. In this sense, the health of Coloradans is outdoors. Because
of Colorado's unique physical environment, the Colorado Enthusiast is able to be
active in ways that are not the standard forms of exercise used to measure levels of
activity in most epidemiological literature. Dianna explains why exercising outdoors
is important to her and how it inspires her to work-out -
I like to be active and I like to stay in shape, so finding
interesting ways to do that besides just being in the gym
and running on the treadmill and lifting weights. You
know, that gets to be a little monotonous. So, finding other
ways that will help improve my dancing or just give me
something to be excited about.
The health hugger wants to be active and wants to be outside. In Colorado,
activities and exercise are outdoors and because Coloradans want to be in the natural
environment, they find physical activities to keep them outdoors. This circular
pattern demonstrates how the healthy lifestyle of Colorado is carried on. The
outdoors provides inspiration and motivation to be active. When asked why he likes
exercising outdoors. Ryan says -
I just enjoy it thoroughly. I get such a great feeling of
relaxation and being able to be outside and feel the sun and
the warmth or even in the cold. Some form of exhilaration,
I suppose. Or some form of excitement that gets me going.
Coloradans are aware of the importance of exercise and diet in regard to
health, but see health as something more than just physical mental health is just as
important. Again, the unique outdoor environment Colorado has to offer provides
individuals with support for an overall mental health. More than just having fun in
24


the outdoor playground, the natural environment is an important part of Coloradans'
holistic view of health. Molly articulates a different health benefit she feels she gets
from exercising in nature -
1 don't think it's anything deep or profound; it's just that I
enjoy myself when I do it. That's just it. I have fun. You
could think of it as what I do on Sundays instead of going
to church is 1 go and be outside somewhere. So. yea, it's a
couple different things. One, it's rejuvenating after the
week and I enjoy myself so it provides happiness. But. it's
also just kind of peace of mind and time to relax and let
your mind not think about anything else.
Being outdoors provides a sense of happiness for Coloradans, which is the
mental health that health huggers are seeking. Interviewees talked about time spent
in nature as "time to reflect" and time to appreciate the world." When asked why
he likes to be outdoors. Ryan states -
I think first and foremost, nature is a living thing and just
being a part of nature, being outdoors in nature. I think is a
great space to be in. It's very soothing and just a relaxing
environment to be around trees and grass and lying in the
sun and enjoying the benefits of the earth.
Studies have found being in nature to be tied to happiness and Coloradans
have found this to be true as well. Arthur wraps up how individual health affects the
entire city, which can also explain the health of the entire state -
There's an uplifting, happy nature in Denver. I think, what
makes it more social and happy is the exercise. It makes
people. I mean, individually it makes people healthier and
happier. So, culturally, I think it does the same.
25


CHAPTER 4
DISCUSSION
The mountains and wilderness of Colorado allow for the environment to be
seen as a playground and the year-round, beautiful weather allows people to have fun
in/on this unique playground. Equally as important, people of Colorado see other
Coloradans being active and desire to do the same. Whether they know one another
or not, simply seeing others being active motivates individuals to live a healthier
lifestyle. This outdoor, active lifestyle is what the people of Colorado understand to
be health.
In contrast to past literature that has focused health behavior research on
proximal surroundings when looking at health behaviors (Yen et al 2009), this
research modifies the construal of an individual's physical environment and is thus
able to fully grasp the importance of nature when looking at health behaviors. The
first contribution of my research is a broader conceptualization of environment. I
have found that natural amenities are important in understanding levels of physical
activity. My findings are consistent with past research that has found positive health
benefits associated with engagement with nature (Hansen-Ketchum et al 2009). but
few studies have looked at natural amenities specifically related to physical activity.
My research suggests that Coloradans consciously choose to exercise outdoors
because of the enjoyment that comes from it. In a sense, the outdoors provides an
26


element of mental health along with the physical health benefits that comes from
exercising. The significance of the natural environment appears to be one of the
main factors in the health of Coloradans.
My research is consistent with prior literature that has found social support to
have a positive effect on health behaviors and physical activity (Eyler et al 1999).
Also consistent with the literature. I also found friends and family to provide social
support for individuals by providing positive motivation (Gabriele et al 2005). Past
research has limited social environment to narrow aspects of social support in
relation to levels of physical activity. 1 have found there is more to one's social
environment than simply their social ties. The second contribution of my research is
an expanded understanding of social support. I have found that more than social ties,
there is an overall visual discourse of physical activity that can be seen in outdoor
public locations. This discourse promotes an active lifestyle to all who see it and
motivates people to be active in an inclusive manner rather than to act as competition
with one another. The visual social environment provides encouragement and
motivation as a form of social support.
Strengths and Limitations
The strengths of this paper are centered on the qualitative design of this
research, which allowed for new insights regarding the relationship between physical
and social environment for individuals who are physically active. By encouraging
individuals to describe their meaning of phy sical and social environment 1 was able


to fill the gap where past research has so far been unable to explain why environment
is so influential when looking at health behaviors. By developing new' conceptual
definitions, this research has opened the door to future research regarding the deeply
intertwined connection between various aspects of environment and health behavior.
One limitation from the sampling design could be the issue of
representativeness of the study population in relation to the entire United States.
Using results of the BRFSS, the people of Colorado are healthier than all other
states, which would indicate that the people of Colorado do not accurately represent
the country as a whole. Given that this research is using an explorative approach, the
issue of representativeness is being overlooked. Also, this research does not take
into account the health behaviors of inactive people. Again, given the explorative
nature of this research, that population was purposefully not chosen. I suggest future
research use a similar interview schedule as a w ay of understanding how inactive
individuals view their physical and social environment.
1 also did not ask about income, but throughout the interviews, participants
pointed out the expenses associated with many of the outdoor activities in Colorado.
Prior research has found members of lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to
be physically active (Burton. Turrell. and Oldenburg 2003). but given the scope of
the research, socioeconomic factors were not taken into consideration.
28


Conclusion
Epidemiologists, doctors and policy makers all understand the importance of
having a healthy society. My research though shows health is more than just burning
calories or building muscle; it is a way of life. I suggest health policy makers need
to understand this and focus on educating individuals to see health as something
good in and of itself. Policies should highlight the fun and enjoyment that comes
from being active rather than seeing it only as a way to reduce obesity or the risk of
cardiovascular disease. Policies should promote health as a way to be happy rather
than solely as a means to a health problem end. The Colorado Enthusiast enjoys
being active because it makes them feel better, both physically and mentally.
Understanding the Colorado Enthusiast's way of life can be useful to future health
policy reform.
This research also opens the door to a new way of studying health. Past
research has looked at physical activity and diet as a way of evaluating individuals'
health. 1 suggest health is more than that. Health is an overall way of life. To study
health, it is important to look at an individual's physical and social environment to
understand how that plays a role in their health behaviors. Studying health needs to
be more holistic in that both physical and mental health need to be evaluated. The
Colorado Enthusiast is already aware of the importance of a more holistic approach
to health, which is why 1 suggest using the Colorado Enthusiast to help understand
how to improve the health of the rest of the nation.
29


APPENDIX A
INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
Are you from Colorado?
If not from Colorado -
What brought you here? How long have you lived here?
What sports/physical activities/exercise did you do before moving
here?
What sports/physical activities/exercise do you participate in?
How did you get started in these sports?
How has your exercise changed since moving to Colorado?
If from Colorado -
What sports/physical activities/exercise do you participate in?
How did you get started in these sports?
How physically active are you? How many times per week do you__________?
How do your friends and family support your physical activities? Examples?
Do your friends and family ever get in the way of your activities? Examples?
Where do you do your exercising or physical activities? Examples'?
How important is it for you to get out in nature?
Do you feel the overall culture of Colorado has had an effect on your life?
Examples?
30


Have there been times in your life when you haven't been as physically active as
vou'd like?
Examples?
What are some obstacles you feel effect your physical activity?
What motivates you to be physically active?
What priority does exercise have in your life? Has it changed throughout your life


REFERENCES
Baker. Elizabeth A.. Brennan. Laura K... Brownson. Ross. & Houseman Robyn A.
(2000). Measuring the Determinants of Physical Activity in the Community:
Current and Future Directions. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport.
"7(2), 146-158.
Bertolas, Randy James. (1997). Cross-Cultural Environmental Perception of
Wilderness. Professional Geographer. 50(1). 98-111.
Bourdieu, Pierre. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Berkeley. CA: University
of California Press.
Burton, Nicola W.. Turrell. Gavin. & Oldenburg, Brian F. (2003). Participation in
Recreational Physical Activity: Why Do Socioeconomic Groups Differ?.
Health Education Behavior. 30(2). 225-244.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Physical Inactivity Estimates, by
County [Data File]. Retrieved from
http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsPhysicallnactivity/
32


Cockerham, William. (2005). Health Lifestyle Theory and the Convergence of
Agency and Structure. .Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 7(5(1), 51-67.
Cummins, Steven. Curtis. Sarah, Diez-Roux, Ana V.. & Macintyre. Sally. (2007).
Understanding and Representing "Place* in Health Research: A Relational
Approach. Social Science and Medicine. 65(9). 1825-1838.
Dietz. Bill. (Interviewee). (2010). Vital Signs Telebriefing: State-Specific Obesity
Prevalence Among Adults United States. 2009 [Interview Transcript],
Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site:
http://www.cdc.gov/media/transcripts/2010/t 100803 .htm
Eyler. Amy A.. Brownson. Ross C.. Donatelle. Rebecca J., King, Abbv C., Brown.
David. & Sallis, James F. (1999). Physical Activity, Social Support, and
Middle- and Older-Aged Minority Women: Results from a US Survey. Social
Science & Medicine. 49(6). 781-789.
Fenton, Mark. (2005). Battling American's Epidemic of Physical Inactivity: Building
More Walkable, Livable Communities. Journal of Nutrition Education and

J J
Behavior. 3 T 115-120.


Gabriele, Jeanne M.. Walker. Mark S.. Gill, Diane L.. Harber. Kent D.. & Fisher.
Edwin B. (2005). Differentiated Roles of Social Encouragement and Social
Constraint on Physical Activity Behavior. Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
29(3). 210-215.
Gomez-Pompa. Arturo, & Kaus, Andrea. (1992). Taming the Wilderness Myth.
Bioscience. 92(4), 271-279.
Hansen-Ketchum, Patricia, Marck. Patricia. & Reutter. Linda. (2009). Engaging with
Nature to Promote Health: New Directions for Nursing Research. Journal of
Advanced Nursing. 65(7), 1527-1538.
Haughton McNeill. Loma, Kreuter, Matthew W.. & Subramanian. S.V. (2006).
Social Environment and Physical Activity: A Review of the Concepts and
Evidence. Social Science and Medicine. 63. 1011-1022.
Kandula. N.R.. & Lauderdale. D.S. (2005). Leisure time, non-leisure time, and
occupational physical activity in Asian Americans. Annals of Epidemiology.
75(4), 257-265.
Kaplan. Stephen. & Kaplan, Rachel. (2003). Health, Supportive Environments, and
34


the Reasonable Person Model. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9).
1484-1489.
Kawachi, Ichiro, Kennedy, B.P.. & Glass, R. (1999). Social Capital and Self-Rated
Health: A Contextual Analysis. American Journal of Public Health, <39(8),
1 187-1193.
LaPorte. R.E., Montoye, H.J., & Caspersen, C.J. (1985). Assessment of Physical
Activity in Epidemiologic Research: Problems and Prospects. Public Health
Reports, 700(2), 131-146.
Laurendeau, Jason, and Sharara. Nancy. (2008). Women Could Be Every Bit As
Good As Guys. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 32(1). 24-47.
Marquez, David X.. & McAuley. Edward. (2006). Social Cognitive Correlates of
Leisure Time Physical Activity Among Latinos. Journal of Behavioral
Medicine. 29(3), 281-289.
McCormack, Gavin R., Rock. Melanie, Toohey, Ann M.. & Hignell. Danica. (2010).
Characteristics of urban parks associated w ith park use and physical activity:
A review of qualitative research Health and Place, 76(4). 712-726.
35


Nixon. Howard L. (2010). Sport Sociology, NASSS. and Undergraduate Education
in the United States: A Social Network Perspective for Developing the Field.
Sociology of Sport Journal. 2n( 1), 76-88.
Orsega-Smith, Elizabeth M., Payne. Laura L Mowen, Andrew .1.. Ho. Ching-Hua.
& Godbev. Geoffery C. (2007). The Role of Social Support and Self-Efficacy
in Shaping the Leisure Time Physical Activity of Older Adults. Journal of
Leisure Research. 39(4), 705-727.
Pearson. Judith E. (1986). The Definition and Measurement of Social Support.
Journal of Counseling and Development. 64(6). 390-396.
Pratt. Michael. Epping. Jacqueline N., & Dietz, William H. (2009). Putting Physical
Activity into Public Health: A Historical Perspective from the GDC.
Preventative Medicine. 79(4). 301-302.
Prichard. Ivanka, & Tiggemann. Marika. (2008). Relations Among Exercise Type.
Self-Objectification, and Body Image in the Fitness Centre Environment: The
Role of Reasons for Exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9(6). 855-
866.
36


Sallis, James F.. Grossman, Robin M.. Pinski, Robin B.. Patterson. Thomas L., &
Nader, Philip R. (1987). The Development of Scales to Measure Social
Support for Diet and Exercise Behaviors. Preventative Medicine, 16(6), 825-
836.
Saelens, Brian E., Sallis, James F.. & Frank. Lawrence D. (2003). Environmental
Correlates of Walking and Cycling: Findings from the Transportation, Urban
Design, and Planning Literatures. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 25(2), 80-
91.
Schaefer-McDaniel, Nicole, O'Brien Caughy, Margaret. O'Campo, Patricia, &
Gearey, Wayne. (2010). Examining Methodological Details of Neighborhood
Observations and the Relationship to Health: A Literature Review. Social
Science and Medicine, 70(2). 277-292.
Smith. Morgan C. (2009). Obesity as a Social Problem in the United States. Policy,
Politics. & Nursing Practice. 10(2). 134-142.
37


Stahl, T., Rutten. A., Nutbeam. D., Bauman, A.. Kannas, L., Abel. T., Luschen, G..
Rodriguez, Diaz J.A.. Vinck. J & Van der Zee. J. (2001). The Importance of
the Social Environment for Physically Active Lifestyle Results from an
International Study. Social Science and Medicine. 52. 1-10.
Stedman, Richard C. (2003). Is It Really Just a Social Construction? The
Contribution of the Physical Environment to Sense of Place. Society and
Natural Resources. 16(8), 671-686.
Stokols, Daniel. (1992). Establishing and Maintaining Healthy Environments:
Toward a Social Ecology of Health Promotion. American Psychologist,
77(1), 6-22.
Van Cauweberg. Jelle, De Bourdeaudhuij, Use, De Meester, Femke, Van Dyck,
Delfien, Salmon, Jo. Clarys. Peter, & Deforche. Benedicte. (2011).
Relationship Between the Physcial Environment and Physical Activity in
Older Adults: A Systematic Review. Health and Place. I~(2). 458-469.
Warburton. Darren E.R., Nieol. Crystal Whitney, and Bredin. Shannon S.D. (2006).
Health Benefits of Physical Activity: the Evidence. Canadian Medical
Association Journal. I "4(b), 801-809.
38


Williams, Philippa. Barclay. Lesley. & Schmied. Virginia. (2004). Defining Social
Support in Context: A Necessary Step in Improving Research, Intervention,
and Practice. Qualitative Health Research. 14(7), 942-960.
Wilson, Kathleen S.. & Spink, Kevin S. (2009). Social Influence and Physical
Activity in Older Females: Does Activity Preference Matter? Psychology of
Sport and Exercise, 10. 481-488.
Wilson, Thomas C. (2002). The Paradox of Social Class and Sports Involvement:
The Rules of Culture and Economic Capital. International Review for the
Sociology of Sport, 37(\), 5-16.
Yen. Irene H Michael, Yvonne L.. & Perdue. Leslie. (2009). Neighborhood
Environment in the Studies of Health of Older Adults: A Systematic Review.
American Journal of Preventative Medicine. J7(5). 455-463.
39