Six Barriers to Physical Activity Participation



Research published in the British scientific journal Age and Ageing found that older adults are highly knowledgeable about the health benefits of physical activity, yet many remain inactive due to the many barriers to participation. This article examines these barriers and suggests ways in which you and your organization can reduce or eliminate their impact on the physical activity levels of older adults.

1. Lack of interest (by far the #1 factor)

Prior to starting a program, have your older customer examine all their options. Would they prefer taking a class or going solo? Are they a morning or night person? Does indoor fitness appeal to them, or would they prefer to play outside? Could they dedicate large blocks of time to physical activity or could they fit only shorter, more frequent intervals into their schedule? What are their real world goals?


Young or old, people tend to enjoy things that interest them, that help them reach a goal or that is fun and social. By simply asking what they like to do you can break this barrier down one program at a time.


2. Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath can be due to a variety of health issues. It can also be that they are simply out of shape. Meet with their  healthcare provider to see whether you’ll need to consider any special modifications before starting an exercise program. If necessary, get clearance to begin a program. Educate members that there are ways to address issues to improve their quality of life.

3. Joint pain

According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular, moderate exercise offers a whole host of benefits to people with arthritis. By exercising, your member can reduce joint pain and stiffness, build strong muscle around the joints, and increase flexibility and endurance.

4. Perceived lack of fitness

Education is the key here. Ensure that your members know they can start slowly, i.e. with 5-10-minute walks in the morning, at lunchtime and after dinner. With their resistance training, start them with only a couple of exercises and build up. DO NOT OVERWORK them or you will never see them again. Set long-term goals and show them how they will build their fitness level or workout over time.

5. Lack of energy

In many cases, this barrier is reversible and can be due to a low fitness level. It could also be from the interaction of multiple prescription drugs. The first step to a solution is to establish why they are lacking energy, then explain how being active will actually give them more energy. For many it can even reduce the number of expensive drugs they take.

6. Doubting that exercise can lengthen life

Ask your older customers about their quality of life. Are they able to do the things they want to do? Explain how exercise can improve their quality of life, no matter how long they live. What exercise will offer them is the ability to age on their own terms.

How are you reducing barriers that limit participation levels among your older customers?