7 Barriers to Exercise for Older Adults & How to Overcome Them

three seniors running in a park

It’s no secret that exercise is vital for overall health.


Unfortunately, many older adults find it challenging to get enough physical activity in their day-to-day lives. 


In fact, according to the CDC, almost a third of adults over the age of 50 don’t engage in any physical activity. Yikes.


There are several barriers to exercise for older adults that can prevent you from being physically active.


In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most common barriers to exercise for older adults and how you can overcome them.


7 Common Barriers to Exercise for Older Adults

#1 Lack of Time

Lack of time is one of the common barriers to exercise for older adults. It’s no secret that many people struggle to find time to exercise. After all, who has time to go to the gym or take a walk when there are so many other things demanding your attention?


And let’s not forget the time that slips by as you wait to feel like working out. We all know too well the procrastination that happens with waiting to feel like hitting your exercise routine. 


Contrary to popular belief, retirees actually have a lot on their plates. And many say they don’t even know how they had the time to work.


In fact, almost 50% of middle-aged and older adults claim they don’t have the time to engage in physical activity.


50% of oldefr adults claim they don't have the time to exercise


But in reality, lack of time is simply an excuse. There are plenty of ways to sneak in a little bit of exercise without having to set aside hours at a time. 


How to Overcome: Make the Time

Instead of trying to find the time to work out, make the time. As in, simply prioritize exercise like you would any other responsibility. Here are a few tips to help: 


  • Schedule physical activity into your daily routine
  • Whenever possible, walk instead of driving or taking public transportation or park farther away from your destination and walk the rest of the way
  • Engage in a light workout while you cook dinner, watch TV, or do household chores


By making small changes like these, you can gradually work more physical activity into your day without feeling like you’re sacrificing too much time. 


And once you get into the habit of being more active, you may find that you have more energy and can focus better on other tasks throughout the day. So don’t let lack of time be an excuse for not being active.


#2 Pain & Discomfort 

You may get frustrated by health issues, pains, and discomfort. In some cases, it can be difficult for you to find an exercise routine that doesn’t aggravate these physical issues. 


As a result, you may have a hard time getting moving. If that’s the case, you’re not alone.


In fact, pain, discomfort, and physical ailments are the main barriers to exercise for older adults. Especially so if you suffer from chronic pain.


How to Overcome: Actively Ease Your Pain

Being active can help with pain management, as well as improve your strength and physical abilities. Make sure that you:



#3 Fear of Injury

Fear of injury can be attributed to the perception that it’s more difficult for you to heal from any potential injuries. 


But reality debunks those fears.


Research has shown that older adults who exercise regularly are actually less likely to experience falls and other injuries. Additionally, regular exercise can help improve balance and coordination, which in turn reduces the risk of falls


And if you do fall, with regular exercise already in your routine, you’re more likely to have the strength and flexibility to recover from the fall.


rate of falls is reduced by 28% when older adults are involved in multiple types of exercise


How to Overcome: Exercise to Prevent Injury

Physical activity prevents injuries — and, of course, only if it’s done correctly. Here are a few tips to ensure you’re on the right track:


  • See a doctor to get clearance before starting an exercise program
  • Start with gentle exercises and work your way up
  • Wear supportive shoes and clothing
  • Modify activities as needed to accommodate any limitations you may have


Don’t let your fear of injury keep you from reaping the benefits of exercise. Get started with these 9 exercises for fall prevention.


#4 Limited Mobility

As you age, you’ve probably noticed it’s becoming more challenging to move your body the way you want to. And your strength and performance levels drop with age — that’s just an inevitable part of normal aging.


This can make it hard to find an activity that is both enjoyable and within your physical abilities. But that does not imply you are condemned to a sedentary lifestyle. 


In fact, you can increase your mobility even as age-related limitations happen. All it takes is a bit of effort and commitment to a consistent routine. 


How to Overcome: Change Activities 

Start by determining how fit you should actually be and then consider switching up your physical activities. Modifying your chosen activity or trying a new one altogether can help you stay active in spite of any age-related changes. 


For example, if walking is becoming difficult, try swimming or water aerobics instead. These activities are low-impact and easy on the joints. 


And don’t forget that you can also use assistive devices such as chairs, canes or walkers to help with mobility issues. And you can always make modifications to your exercise routine. For instance, if you’re practicing yoga, you can choose a modified pose or try out these chair yoga poses.


Almost every yoga pose can be modified to make it more manageable.


#5 Fixed Income

Gyms aren’t cheap, and many people find themselves unable to afford the monthly membership fees. The cost of equipment can also be prohibitive, especially if you’re just starting out. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get moving without breaking the bank.


It’s also vital to remember that almost half of the physical decline associated with old age may be due to a lack of physical activity. This means any physical activity, including the free kind, is helpful for successful aging. 


Not to mention that increased physical activity and exercise can counter the age-related decline. Which means it’s worth considering all your fitness options. 


How to Overcome: The World is Your Gym

The good news is that there is a myriad of exercises you can do at home or in nature that are completely free. 


For example, cardio exercises like walking, running, or cycling, to name just a few. Not to mention, there are loads of free videos that guide you through exercise regimens or even yoga and pilates sessions.


There’s an exercise and workout option for every budget. It’s about finding a format that’s both enjoyable and affordable.


#6 Lack of Social Support

It’s not just a myth that isolation and lack of social support are bad for your health. There are many studies which have found that the negative effects of loneliness, lack of companionship and lack of meaningful relationships can be devastating to the human body. 


What does loneliness have to do with exercise? 


Recent research shows it can also prevent you from engaging in physical activities. A comprehensive review analyzed over 20 studies and found that social support significantly impacts physical activity in older adults


the relationship between loneliness, quality of life, and perceived social support and how they affect physical activity in older adults
Perceived social support has a significantly positive effect on physical activity and quality of life, while it also decreases loneliness.


In addition to feeling more connected with others, older adults who exercise also report better quality of life overall.


How to Overcome: Partner Up

To overcome this exercise barrier, reach out and get involved in the community somehow. Research suggests that accountability is vital for making progress in just about anything — including exercise.


We suggest that you:


  • Find a workout buddy who will hold you accountable and help keep you motivated
  • Join a sports team or sign up for group fitness classes
  • Look for online communities of people who share your interest in fitness or health 
  • Reach out to friends and family members who may be interested in getting active with you – even if they don’t live close


It’s amazing how much easier it is to follow through with exercise when you reach out and get involved in the community.


#7 Giving Up

Finally, we’ve all been conditioned by society’s myths about aging that retirement is a time to take things easy and relax. And because of this, too many older adults resign to a sedentary lifestyle.


In reality, retirement is a huge opportunity for new beginnings, exploration, and wonderful physical activities — you just have to be willing to start and then build up resilience and consistency.


From there, you can quite literally accomplish anything you truly want. 


How to Overcome: Don’t Wait for Motivation (It Likely Won’t Come)

Our final tip is not to wait for motivation — more often than not, it won’t come. It’s about finding the willpower to get up and get moving, no matter what. And then having the habit become so routine over time, that you no longer have to rely on willpower. 


If you’re finding it hard to muster up the energy to work out, try these tips: 


  • Tap into the magic of micro-stepping to build consistency in your practice
  • Set small goals and reward yourself when you reach every milestone 
  • Listen to energizing music or books while you exercise
  • Focus on how good you feel after working out rather than how difficult it is to get started
  • Celebrate every bit of progress, no matter how small


Overcome Barriers to Physical Activity

It can be challenging to stay (or become) fit over 60. And while starting and maintaining an exercise routine is difficult at any age, it’s even more so as you get older. 


Here are the main barriers to exercise for older adults and why you are discouraged from staying active and engaged:


  • #1 Lack of time —  making time for physical activity can actually give you more energy and help you get more done
  • #2 Pain and discomfort — it can be discouraging, but it’s important to find ways to work around that and keep moving
  • #3 Fear of injury — not only can exercise help you minimize the risk of injury, but being fit also helps you recover faster
  • #4 Limited mobility — maybe you can’t chase your grandkids around the park, or walk as fast as you used to, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on exercise altogether
  • #5 Fixed income — there are plenty of ways to get moving without spending much (or any) money
  • #6 Lack of social support — build a supportive network and make exercise more enjoyable
  • #7 Giving up — if you become overwhelmed and discouraged when starting an exercise routine or feel you can’t stick with it, the trick is not to wait for motivation (it likely won’t come)


But, as we’ve pointed out in our article, there are specific ways you can overcome these barriers by finding creative solutions that fit your lifestyle. 


And while it’s natural to be hesitant about starting an exercise program, you can build your confidence by starting slowly and gradually adding more challenging activities as you become stronger. 


We hope this article has given you some new ideas on how to start your new exercise routine. At the very least, we hope it helps you pinpoint what’s keeping you from becoming your healthiest and fittest self so that you can move in the right direction. 


You deserve to shine as your best.