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Clin Med Res. 2014 Sep;12(1-2):10-20. doi: 10.3121/cmr.2013.1171. Epub 2014 Jan 10.

Barriers to and facilitators of physical activity program use among older adults.

Author information

  • 1University of Washington, Department of Anthropology; Seattle, WA University of Washington, School of Public Health, Seattle, WA University of Washington, Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology (CSDE), Seattle, WA
  • 2University of Washington, School of Public Health, Seattle, WA Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, WA.
  • 3Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, WA.



Regular physical activity (PA) is important for maintaining long-term physical, cognitive, and emotional health. However, few older adults engage in routine PA, and even fewer take advantage of programs designed to enhance PA participation. Though most managed Medicare members have free access to the Silver Sneakers and EnhanceFitness PA programs, the vast majority of eligible seniors do not utilize these programs. The goal of this qualitative study was to better understand the barriers to and facilitators of PA and participation in PA programs among older adults.


This was a qualitative study using focus group interviews.


Focus groups took place at three Group Health clinics in King County, Washington.


Fifty-two randomly selected Group Health Medicare members between the ages of 66 to 78 participated.


We conducted four focus groups with 13 participants each. Focus group discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using an inductive thematic approach and a social-ecological framework.


Men and women were nearly equally represented among the participants, and the sample was largely white (77%), well-educated (69% college graduates), and relatively physically active. Prominent barriers to PA and PA program participation were physical limitations due to health conditions or aging, lack of professional guidance, and inadequate distribution of information on available and appropriate PA options and programs. Facilitators included the motivation to maintain physical and mental health and access to affordable, convenient, and stimulating PA options.


Older adult populations may benefit from greater support and information from their providers and health care systems on how to safely and successfully improve or maintain PA levels through later adulthood. Efforts among health care systems to boost PA among older adults may need to consider patient-centered adjustments to current PA programs, as well as alternative methods for promoting overall active lifestyle choices.

© 2014 Marshfield Clinic.


Barriers; Exercise; Older adults; Physical activity programs; Qualitative research

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