Physical inactivity has become a public health crisis which can be the trigger to many other chronic diseases. Participation in physical activity is correlated with a variety of factors at multiple levels, including individual physical and psychological health, interpersonal social support, and community physical and social environments. Previous studies found that individuals' social networks influenced health behaviors, including physical activity. However, it remains unclear how social networks at different life stages affect adult engagement in physical activity among different socio-demographic groups. Built upon a theoretical framework which integrates the social-ecological model, social cognitive theory and social network theory, this study addresses three research questions: 1) Do the effects of social networks on adult engagement in physical activity vary among different socio-demographic groups? 2) How has adult participation in physical activity been influenced by their social networks during adolescence and adulthood, as mediated by their psychological health? 3) Does the association between physical activity and social and physical environments vary across space due to unequal distribution of resources? Individuals' sociodemographic status, psychological and physical health, and social network indicators were obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health Wave I and Wave IV. County-level physical and social environment variables were collected from multiple sources (e.g. Census Bureau). Statistical and spatial methods such as latent class analysis, path analysis, and geographically weighted regression were applied in this research. The findings indicate that individuals' social networks in both adolescence and adulthood had significant influence on adult participation in physical activity. High-quality relationships with parents, spouses, and friends in both adolescence and adulthood were found to promote physical activity engagements for all population groups. But the effects of other social relationships varied across socio-demographic groups. For example, males tended to be physically active if they had frequent connections with their neighbors, while female participation in physical activity was strongly related to their high contact frequency with children. The findings also suggest that psychological and physical health not only have significant direct influences but also mediate the indirect effects of social networks on physical activity engagement. In addition, unequal community social and physical environments also play a crucial role in adult engagement in physical activity.


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Graduation Date





Li, Yingru


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program





CFE0007943; DP0023083





Release Date

May 2023

Length of Campus-only Access

3 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)