Social integration through physical activity: A multi-method assessment of a program for new Canadian women


Canada's global reputation is one of welcoming immigrants and embracing ethnocultural diversity. 2022 Canadian population growth estimates indicated the highest level of immigration in the first quarter of any year since 1946 (Statistics Canada, 2022). Yet, many immigrants experience social disruption and isolation, contributing to increased feelings of loneliness (Stick et al., 2021). Physical activity (PA) represents a possible avenue for social integration and meaningful social connections, which may benefit newcomer women who report significant challenges to re-settlement that can adversely impact their well -being. The goal of our ACTIVEIntegration Partnership is to understand how PA can facilitate social integration among new Canadian women and children. This communication presents evidence related to a PA program for new Canadian women piloted at a community centre in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, during the fall of 2021 and expanded to two sites in the spring of 2022. The free 8-week, female-only, culturally-sensitive program was informed by earlier focus groups with newcomer women that assessed PA preferences, determinants, and barriers. Each session consisted of 60 minutes of PA, followed by 30 minutes of socializing. Free childcare and refreshments were provided to participants. Results of a multi-method approach to data collection, including focus group interviews with program participants, leaders, and organizers, survey-based participant feedback, and participant-researcher field notes, highlight enhanced perceptions of social integration and suggestions to improve future programming. Reflections on implementation challenges (e.g., Covid-19 restrictions, religious observances, ethical constraints) and facilitators (e.g., partnerships, program leadership, community liaisons) will also be discussed.

Acknowledgments: The authors gratefully acknowledge funding support from a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant (890-2018-0050)