Be Aware of the Common Barriers

Commonly cited reasons for not exercising include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • A dislike of exercise
  • Competing priorities
  • General poor health or mobility concerns that make exercise difficult
  • Transportation challenges

In a recent Mood Walks survey of people with lived experience of mental illness, the most frequent reasons for discontinuing with a physical activity group (aside from cost barriers) were:

  • The group did not fit into my schedule
  • I did not feel I fit in socially with the group
  • I got injured

Here is a list of common barriers to participating in physical activity groups, as well as some strategies to help participants overcome them:

Lack of energy Exercise is energy-boosting! Suggest to the participant to:

  • Start with short periods of exercise and notice any energy boosts afterward.
  • Try journaling energy levels, and notice what activities are energy-draining or energy-boosting. Try to schedule energy-draining activities so they do not fall just before group time, and include energy-boosting activities to motivate you before the group walk.

Lack of motivation

  • Set goals and track progress (see “Goal-Setting”).
  • Congratulate participants on their achievements, and encourage them to reward themselves.

Scheduling conflicts

  • Involve participants as much as possible in selecting the group’s timeslot.
  • Mornings tend to be a difficult time to get going. Point out that exercising first thing can help start the day on the right foot. (It also limits excuses.)
  • Encourage participants to make their health a priority, and try to schedule other commitments around group time.

Not fitting in socially

  • Keep group communication inclusive and role-model good social skills.
  • Enlist volunteers and peer leaders to ensure no one walks alone.
  • In a private setting, offer participants constructive feedback about their social interactions.
  • Brainstorm ways to start conversations with other participants, and discuss observing other participants to gauge their reactions to and interest in social interactions.
  • Remind participants that other people may be experiencing their own difficulties, and not to take perceived slights too seriously. Not all people will connect, and that is okay.

Fear of injury

  • Provide warm-up and cool-down activities to limit the risk of injury (see “Warm-Up and Cool-Down Exercises”).
  • Remind participants to go at their own pace and listen to their bodies, taking breaks when necessary.

Weather conditions

  • Encourage participants to plan ahead for the weather. Discuss appropriate clothing (see “Helping Participants Prepare for a Walk”) and how to obtain it affordably (see “Troubleshooting: Overcoming Obstacles”).
  • Consider having a back-up plan for inclement weather, such as meeting at a mall or track, where you could walk indoors if necessary.
  • Present varying weather conditions as opportunities to experience a familiar environment in a new light. Suggest that participants bring dry clothing on rainy days to change into after their walk.

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