Motivators and barriers for older adults starting an exercise program and sticking with it

Motivators and barriers for older adults starting an exercise program and sticking with it

On September 22, 2015 CHHM and Dr. Steve Robinovitch hosted Dr. Helen Hawley-Hague to share her latest work on how to get older adults to start an exercise program and stick with it.

Her key finding in a nutshell: Attitude is everything

You can view Dr. Hawley-Hague's full lecture:

Lecture by Dr. Helen Hawley-Hague from Hip Health and Mobility on Vimeo.

And yet older adults and the people who care about them are the best people to identify the barriers and solutions for starting an exercise program.


"There’s nothing wrong with me...I’m all right just doing my housework” (Female, aged 66). This is related to identity and not relating to the need to be a part of a regular exercise program.

Are you sure this is doing you good mum? Sit down, put your feet up” (Female, aged 53). Sometimes exercise efforts can be undermined by family members who think exercise might be dangerous and that moving is risky.

I think the word exercise puts older people off full stop!…they see movement as having a sense and a purpose, exercise is something that you just want me to do” (Female, aged 48). In this case the participant felt that exercise was being foisted upon her.

You go into a leisure centre, it can be quite big, quite intimidating, you get the person on reception who’s not really interested…” (Female, aged 48). Sometimes the setting itself can be a barrier if the person doesn't feel comfortable there.

Older adults also identified reasons why they wanted to start exercising.


You’ve got to sit there and wait for someone to help you get dressed, make you a cup of tea, feed you…and it’s that look of, horror really on their face” (Female, aged 48). This person identified fears about being able to take care of herself.

 “I have a gentleman at the moment who I am trying to get in the Parkinson’s healthy bones class, and both his daughters are going to go with him” (Female, aged 38, Physiotherapist). This physiotherapist found that a support network can be powerful in getting people to start exercising.

She said you know what my blood pressure is, you know what tablets I take, you know what’s wrong with me, therefore I feel confident to come here” (Female, aged 53). Fears of starting an exercise program can sometimes be allayed when the participant feels that his or her healthcare provider supports exercise.


Dr. Hawley-Hague found some generalizations that contribute to the success of an exercise program, particularly in a Rec Centre setting.

  • Emphasis on social benefits of classes
  • Establish links between rehabilitation services and community exercise provision. Continuity of delivery.
  • All instructors should undertake motivational training.
  • Engagement of family, friends and health professionals.
  • Goal setting and assessments
  • Use of experienced instructor.
  • Personal touch
  • Observation of range of classes with range of participants

Dr. Hawley-Hague is Gerontologist and Scientific Coordinator for ProFouND: The Prevention of Falls Network for Dissemination in the UK and a world leader in falls prevention, behaviour change, and attitudes towards technology. She is a world leader in preventing falls and investigating the motivators and barriers to older adults and exercise. Her work looks at how the Theory of Planned Behaviour influences the Individual and Environmental Factors that contribute to exercise plus the characteristics of individual programs that might contribute to exercise adherence.