Barriers to Physical Activity

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Many technological advances and conveniences that have made our lives easier and less active, many personal variables, including physiological, behavioural, and psychological factors, may affect our plans to become more physically active. Understanding common barriers to physical activity and creating strategies to overcome them may help make physical activity part of daily life.

Barriers can be categorised into external and internal barriers. External barriers involve the environment while internal barriers comprise personal factors such as preferences and attitudes. [1][2]

Personal Barriers[edit | edit source]

With technological advances and conveniences, people’s lives have in many ways become increasingly easier, as well as less active. In addition, people have many personal reasons or explanations for being inactive. The most common reasons adults don't adopt more physically active lifestyles are cited as[3][4][5]:

  • insufficient time to exercise
  • inconvenience of exercise
  • lack of self-motivation
  • non-enjoyment of exercise
  • boredom with exercise
  • lack of confidence in their ability to be physically active (low self-efficacy)
  • fear of being injured or having been injured recently
  • lack of self-management skills, such as the ability to set personal goals, monitor
  • progress, or reward progress toward such goals
  • lack of encouragement, support, or companionship from family and friends
  • non-availability of parks, sidewalks, bicycle trails, or safe and pleasant walking
  • paths close to home or the workplace

The top three barriers to engaging in physical activity across the adult lifespan are[6]

  • time
  • energy
  • motivation

In a 2013 study[7] that aimed to identify the external and internal barriers to physical activity and exercise participation among middle-aged and elderly individuals the most common external barriers among the middle-aged and elderly respondents were 'not enough time', 'no one to exercise with' and 'lack of facilities'. The most common internal barriers for middle-aged respondents were 'too tired', 'already active enough', 'do not know how to do it' and 'too lazy', while those for elderly respondents were 'too tired', 'lack of motivation' and 'already active enough'.

Other barriers include

  • cost
  • facilities
  • illness or injury
  • transportation
  • partner issues
  • skill
  • safety considerations
  • child care
  • uneasiness with change
  • unsuitable programs

Environmental barriers[edit | edit source]

The environment in which we live has a great influence on our level of physical activity. Many factors in our environment affect us. Obvious factors include the accessibility of walking paths, cycling trails, and recreation facilities. Factors such as traffic, availability of public transportation, crime, and pollution may also have an effect. Other environmental factors include our social environment, such as support from family and friends, and community spirit. It is possible to make changes in our environment through campaigns to support active transportation, legislation for safer communities, and the creation of new recreation facilities.

Identifying barriers to physical activity[edit | edit source]

The Barriers to Being Physically Active Quiz was created by the centers for disease control and prevention to help identify barriers to physical activity and steer clinician and participant's awareness and target strategies to improve compliance. It a 21-item measure assessing the following barriers to physical activity: 1) lack of time, 2) social influence, 3) lack of energy, 4) lack of willpower, 5) fear of injury, 6) lack of skill, and 7) lack of resources (eg, recreational facilities, exercise equipment). Each domain contains 3 items, with a total score range of 0 to 63. Respondents rate the degree of activity interference on a 4-point scale, ranging from 0 = “very unlikely” to 3 = “very likely.”

Overcoming Barriers[edit | edit source]

As health care professionals we can help people identify barriers to exercise and make suggestions for how they can overcome these barriers.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[6] makes suggestions for overcoming physical activity barriers:

Lack of time Identify available time slots.

  • Monitor your daily activities for one week. Identify at least three 30-minute time slots you could use for physical activity.
  • Add physical activity to your daily routine. For example, walk or ride your bike to work or shopping, organise school activities around physical activity, walk the dog, exercise while you watch TV, park farther away from your destination, etc.
  • Select activities requiring minimal time, such as walking, jogging, or stair climbing.

Social influence

  • Explain your interest in physical activity to friends and family. Ask them to support your efforts.
  • Invite friends and family members to exercise with you. Plan social activities involving exercise.
  • Develop new friendships with physically active people. Join a group, such as the YMCA or a hiking club.

Lack of energy

  • Schedule physical activity for times in the day or week when you feel energetic.
  • Convince yourself that if you give it a chance, physical activity will increase your energy level; then, try it.

Lack of motivation

  • Plan ahead. Make physical activity a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule and write it on your calendar.
  • Invite a friend to exercise with you on a regular basis and write it on both your calendars.
  • Join an exercise group or class.

Fear of injury

  • Learn how to warm up and cool down to prevent injury.
  • Learn how to exercise appropriately considering your age, fitness level, skill level, and health status.
  • Choose activities involving minimum risk.

Lack of skill

  • Select activities requiring no new skills, such as walking, climbing stairs, or jogging.
  • Take a class to develop new skills.

Lack of resources

  • Select activities that require minimal facilities or equipment, such as walking, jogging, jumping rope, or calisthenics.
  • Identify inexpensive, convenient resources available in your community (community education programs, park and recreation programs, worksite programs, etc.).

Weather conditions

  • Develop a set of regular activities that are always available regardless of weather (indoor cycling, aerobic dance, indoor swimming, calisthenics, stair climbing, rope skipping, mall walking, dancing, gymnasium games, etc.)


  • Put a jump rope in your suitcase and jump rope.
  • Walk the halls and climb the stairs in hotels.
  • Stay in places with swimming pools or exercise facilities.
  • Join the YMCA or YWCA (ask about reciprocal membership agreement).
  • Visit the local shopping mall and walk for half an hour or more.
  • Bring your mp3 player your favourite aerobic exercise music.

Family obligations

  • Trade babysitting time with a friend, neighbour, or family member who also has small children.
  • Exercise with the kids-go for a walk together, play tag or other running games, get an aerobic dance or exercise tape for kids (there are several on the market) and exercise together. You can spend time together and still get your exercise.
  • Jump rope, do calisthenics, ride a stationary bicycle, or use other home gymnasium equipment while the kids are busy playing or sleeping.
  • Try to exercise when the kids are not around (e.g., during school hours or their nap time).

Retirement years

  • Look upon your retirement as an opportunity to become more active instead of less. Spend more time gardening, walking the dog, and playing with your grandchildren. Children with short legs and grandparents with slower gaits are often great walking partners.
  • Learn a new skill you've always been interested in, such as ballroom dancing, square dancing, or swimming.
  • Now that you have the time, make regular physical activity a part of every day. Go for a walk every morning or every evening before dinner. Treat yourself to an exercycle and ride every day while reading a favourite book or magazine.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Koh, Y.S., Asharani, P.V., Devi, F., Roystonn, K., Wang, P., Vaingankar, J.A., Abdin, E., Sum, C.F., Lee, E.S., Müller-Riemenschneider, F. and Chong, S.A., 2022. A cross-sectional study on the perceived barriers to physical activity and their associations with domain-specific physical activity and sedentary behaviour. BMC Public Health, 22(1), pp.1-11.
  2. Ferreira Silva RM, Mendonça CR, Azevedo VD, Raoof Memon A, Noll PR, Noll M. Barriers to high school and university students’ physical activity: A systematic review. PloS one. 2022 Apr 4;17(4):e0265913.
  3. Sallis JF, Hovell MF. Determinants of exercise behavior. Exercise and sport sciences reviews. 1990 Jan 1;18(1):307-30.
  4. Sallis JF, Hovell MF, Hofstetter CR. Predictors of adoption and maintenance of vigorous physical activity in men and women. Preventive medicine. 1992 Mar 1;21(2):237-51.
  5. Manaf H. Barriers to participation in physical activity and exercise among middle-aged and elderly individuals. Singapore Med J. 2013;54(10):581-6.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity. Physical Activity for Everyone. 22 May 2007.
  7. Manaf H. Barriers to participation in physical activity and exercise among middle-aged and elderly individuals. Singapore Med J. 2013;54(10):581-6.