The Association between Physical Activity Behavior and Commonly Reported Barriers in a Worksite Population

By Bowles, Heather R.; Morrow, James R., Jr. et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, December 2002 | Go to article overview

The Association between Physical Activity Behavior and Commonly Reported Barriers in a Worksite Population


Bowles, Heather R., Morrow, James R., Jr., Leonard, Bruce L., Hawkins, Margaret, Couzelis, Paul M., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Key words: determinants, exercise, physical activity guidelines, self-motivation

Physical activity is an essential part of healthy living. In general, persons with moderate to high levels of physical activity or cardiorespiratory fitness exhibit lower mortality and morbidity rates than those leading sedentary lifestyles or with low cardiorespiratory fitness (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 1996). Physical inactivity is related to a number of diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, obesity, colon cancer, and osteoporosis. Physical activity also relieves symptoms of anxiety and depression (Koltyn & Schultes, 1997). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend that every adult should minimally exercise at a moderate intensity level and accumulate 30 min of activity most, preferably all, days of the week (Pate et al., 1995). However, recent research suggests that approximately 20-30% of adults are reportedly active at this level sufficient to receive a health benefit (CDC, 2001; Martin, Morrow, Jackson, & Dunn, 2000; Pate et al., 1995).

A number of factors affect participation in physical activity. A physically active lifestyle may be determined by demographic variables, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about physical activity, as well as exercise format and environmental factors (Dishman, 1994). Participation in activity can also be influenced either positively by benefits or negatively by barriers. Several classifications of barriers exist. Sechrist, Walker, and Pender (1987) described perceived and real barriers. A perceived barrier is a factor an individual senses as a hindrance to being physically active. To be a real barrier, the factor must be an obstacle that truly impedes behavior and is not merely an impression. Brawley, Martin, and Gyurcsik (1998) differentiated between perceived and physical barriers. Perceived barriers can be personal (e.g., depression, fatigue) or situational (e.g., poor weather, workload). Perceived barriers could slow or stop health behavior change. Physical barriers actually prevent behavior adoption. These include lack of facilities, lack of leadership, actual physical disabilities, etc. Regardless, barriers, both perceived and real, can possibly impact one's behavior and, ultimately, the health benefits accrued from physical activity.

Sechrist et al. (1987) studied exercising and non-exercising adults (ages 18-88 years) to determine barriers to exercise. The sample was from the community at large, with 71% reporting full-time employment. They identified four main barrier factors to physical activity: exercise milieu, time expenditure, physical exertion, and family discouragement: (a) exercise milieu factors included location of facilities, costs of exercise, and number of places to exercise; (b) time expenditure items included time taken from family responsibilities, busywork schedules, or busy social schedules; (c) physical exertion factors characterized the fatiguing nature of exercise; (d) finally, lack of encouragement from spouse and family described family discouragement factors.

Barriers may be specific to population subgroups (e.g., employed or working). Specific physical activity barriers have been identified for women, older adults, and under-served groups (Heesch, Brown, & Blanton, 2000; Marcus, 1995). Generally, the most prevalently self-reported reason for inactivity is perceived lack of time. Jaffee, Lutter, Rex, Hawkes, and Bucaccio (1999) reported that lack of time due to work commitments was the most commonly cited barrier for working women, followed by lack of time due to family commitments. Time management also was a barrier to physical activity following college graduation (Calfas, Sallis, Lovato, & Campbell, 1994) and for women during pregnancy (Godin et al., 1994). Lack of time appears to be the principal reason reported for dropping out of physical activity programs (King et al. …

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