In 2004, the 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 certain barriers to participation. So for this month's column, I decided to examine 10 of the barriers and suggest ways you can reduce or eliminate them.

  1. Barrier: Lack of interest

    Solution: Prior to starting a program, have your older member or potential member 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 shorter, more frequent intervals into their schedule? 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 them what they like to do, you can break down this barrier.

  2. Barrier: Lack of daily access to a car

    Solution: This barrier may seem daunting, but it can be overcome. Depending on how many older members you have, you may be able to arrange carpools or hire a bus service. You may also wish to offer intergenerational programs in which you find a younger relative to drive and exercise with the older member. Another option is to bring the facility to them. In-home personal training is an opportunity to grow your business outside of your four walls, especially since 51 percent of all personal training clients are 45-plus.

  3. Barrier: Shortness of breath

    Solution: Shortness of breath can be caused by a variety of health issues beyond being out of shape. Meet with the member's healthcare provider to see whether you should consider any special modifications before starting an exercise program. If necessary, get clearance to begin. Educate the member that addressing this issue will improve their quality of life. Research shows that, even after a 30-year layoff, after six months of endurance training, mid-life males were able to achieve a 100 percent reversal of age-related declines in aerobic power.

  4. Barrier: Joint pain

    Solution: According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular, moderate exercise offers benefits to people with arthritis. By exercising, they can reduce joint pain and stiffness, build strong muscle around the joints, and increase flexibility and endurance.

  5. Barrier: Dislike of going out alone

    Solution: Find the member an exercise buddy. Whether it's a friend or a personal trainer, that buddy makes it more likely they'll do the workout.

  6. Barrier: Dislike of going out in the evening

    Solution: Depending on where they live, going out at night may be unsafe. Or they may have problems with night vision. Arranging for transportation or helping them rearrange their schedule to fit in daytime workouts may help.

  7. Barrier: Perceived lack of fitness

    Solution: Ensure they know that they can start slowly with short walks throughout the day. With 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 one workout at a time.

  8. Barrier: Lack of energy

    Solution: Lack of energy can stem from a low fitness level or from the interaction of prescription drugs. First, establish why they have a lack of energy. Then, explain that being active will give them more energy. For many it can also reduce the number of drugs they take and the expense that goes with it. Depression can create low energy levels, especially if the person is a caregiver. In treating depression, research shows that exercise may be more effective than drugs.

  9. Barrier: Doubting that exercise can lengthen life

    Solution: Ask them about their quality of life. Are they able to do the things they want to do? Explain how exercise can improve this, no matter how long they live. Exercise will offer them the ability to age on their own terms. The number one reason that most people get admitted into a skilled nursing home is lack of leg strength. One out of three people over the age of 65 fall every year. We lose 50 percent of our strength between the ages of 35 and 70 if we lead a sedentary life. All of these factors impact our ability to lead a quality lifestyle. However, a simple exercise program can impact all of these positively.

  10. Barrier: Not belonging to a group

    Solution: Group exercise is one of the best ways of creating a social network. Get together a support network of friends and family, and ask for their support and encouragement of the member. Involving others often helps seniors keep their commitments.

Whether you want to capture a small share of the older market or make it the centerpiece of your business model, one thing is certain, you need to eliminate as many barriers as possible to achieve the success you deserve.


Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at colinmilner@icaa.cc.