German senior citizens’ capabilities for physical activity: a qualitative study

Alexandra Sauter, Janina Curbach, Jana Rueter, Verena Lindacher, Julika Loss

Health Promotion International,


Sen’s capability approach (CA) has found its way into health promotion over the last few years. The approach takes both individual factors as well as social and environmental conditions into account and therefore appears to have great potential to explore opportunities for (‘capabilities’) and barriers to active lifestyles. Thus, our objective in this study was to investigate which capabilities senior citizens perceive to have available to them in order to be physically active. In Southern Germany, we conducted 26 semi-standardized interviews with senior citizens aged 66–97, as well as 9 interviews with key persons who have close contact to senior citizens in their work life. We identified 11 capabilities which the interviewees considered as important in leading an active lifestyle. They could be grouped into four domains: (1) individual resources, (2) social interactions and norms, (3) living conditions and (4) organizational environment. Results highlight the need for health-promoting interventions that widen the range of capabilities on social and environmental levels in a way that individuals can freely choose to be as physically active as they like. The results make clear that interventions should not only target and involve older adults themselves, but also their families, nursing home staff or community representatives, because these groups are important in shaping older adults’ capabilities for an active lifestyle.