Barriers We Face: What Older Adults Think about Exercise and 3 Things you can Do to Break Through

Thoughts to ponder:
-> Up to 40% of older persons think they would not gain any benefit from exercise. How can we as family members, health care professionals or personal trainers work to change this mindset?
-> Older adults value social interaction – how are you encouraging family and friends to remain socially and physical active?
-> Older persons recognize that exercise can help with strength and balance, both of which are important as we age. How can we convince everyone of that?

There can always be an excuse not to exercise. Life gets busy and obligations stack up. Family life, commitments, jobs all take up our time and are often our priority. This is not only true of the young working professional. Older adults are in a unique situation as they can have family priorities on each side. They can be a caregiver for their older parents, be taking care of an ill spouse, or the babysitter for young grandchildren. This on top of some adults who continue working into their late 60s/early 70s creates a different situation than generations past.

A systematic review published by Franco and colleagues in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) looked at some of the thoughts of older adults about participating in exercise. Essentially, they gave you the likes and dislikes, what the excuses will be, and what you should do so that you’ll be successful in motivating a person over the age of 60 to exercise. The perfect resource right?!

So here’s what they had to say….

40% of people expressed disinterest because they felt it wouldn’t give them any benefit

24% of adults polled felt that exercise was unnecessary for older adults and may even be harmful.

64% of studies showed that older adults valued social interaction with exercise

It wasn’t all bad. There were many people who reported on the positive effects of exercise!

Persons recognized that exercise was a way to reduce risk of falling, improving mobility and slowing the aging process

52 % of studies shows that people believed that physical activity improved muscle strength, balance and flexibility.

Stave Off Personal TrainingThe Social side of Exercise: Pointers for the Health and Fitness Professional
One of the things that was strongly highlighted in this article was the power of the people around to influence change. Fitness professionals have the power to impact change every day. Older persons reported that having a good rapport with the instructor that they were working with was motivating and helped with adherence. This includes health care professionals. Especially in this demographic, support and advice from doctors, chiropractors, physiotherapists and other health care staff can have a large influence. Many persons look to these professions as guides for the cans and can’ts, the dos and don’ts . If they are encouraging and say it can be done, there can be a lot of leverage in that.

Group settings can be a blessing but also a curse. Some people feel very self conscious in small groups. If they believe that they are the worst in the group, it can lead to insecurity and a lack of confidence. This can prevent people from coming back. Making them nervous about exercising. Encouragement from the instructor as well as an effort to really include a person in the group is important for long term retention and success with older adults.

Studies such as these give us an inside look into the minds of some of our potential clients or family members that we are trying to encourage to stay active. Knowing these things, it will help the way we target the subject of exercise with our client prospects or loved ones.

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Try some of these ideas
1. Learn about the person and what they think of exercise: Know what you’re up against. If a person has never exercised a day in their lives, recommending a 5 x /week intense program will have them running for the hills. Learn about their history and ease into an increase in activity.

2. Find out what they value and then target your approach there: Exercise needs to show some benefit for the person you are trying to reach. You need to choose your angle. Exercise has SO MANY benefits. Pick the one that is going to mean the most to the person you’re talking to.

3. Find out what they fear and ease that anxiety: Some older adults fear falling, getting hurt, or injuries that they believe will get worse through exercise. If this is the case, it may be hard to change a persons perceptions. It’s important that you address their concerns. Acknowledge their fears and find a way to work through them together so that they feel safe.

The more you know about a person’s beliefs and history, the better able you are to cater your messaging to them. Ultimately our goal is for their benefit. Exercise is needed throughout your life especially as we get older. So keep in mind these common thoughts in this demographic. It’ll help your client and it’ll help your business.


Franco MR, Tong A, Howard K, Sherrington C, Ferreira PH, Pinto RZ, Ferreira ML. Older people’s perspective on participation in physical activity: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative literature. BJSM. 2015. 49 1268-75.

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Christina Prevett

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