Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Senior Fitness: Identifying Physical Activity Barriers

I haven't been physically active lately and look it. My weight zoomed up and I don't have the stamina I had previously. Though I'm still within the normal weight range, I have small bones, and the extra weight doesn't look good on me.

This fact hit home when my husband and I attended a weekend conference. Our picture was taken before dinner, developed during dinner, and given to us as we left. When I looked at the photo I couldn't believe my eyes? Who was that chubby woman? Who was the large man next to her?

"We've got to lose weight!" I exclaimed to my husband. This spiked my curiosity about the physical activity barriers many older adults face, and I searched the Internet for information. A Mayo Clinic website article, "Barriers to Fitness: Overcoming Common Challenges," lists five barriers: lack of time, attitude, self-consciousness about appearance, fatigue, and lack of motivation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites other barriers on its website. Fear of being injured is one barrier and I suspect it is a common one. Lack of safe parks and safe walking areas are other barriers. "Look upon your retirement as an opportunity to become more active instead of less," the CDC advises. Good advice, but how could I follow it?

I read a dozen articles or so and none of them -- not one -- addressed health barriers. What are some of them? These are my health barriers and you may face them as well.

1. Arthritis. During my last physical exam I told my physician about my painful right hip. She ordered x-rays and the results showed I had two arthritic hips, not one. When my hip is throbbing I'm not inclined to go for a walk.

2. Medications. I have high blood pressure and take several prescribed medications to control it. These medications slow my heart and my walking speed when climbing stairs.

3. Injury. Several months ago I fractured a bone in my foot. My foot was so painful I went to the hospital emergency department. I was given a prescription for pain killers, told to stay off my feet, and use crutches. Though my foot is healing nicely, every once in a while I get a stabbing pain in my foot.

4. Occupation. I am a nonfiction writer -- a sedentary occupation. In addition to writing books and articles, I write for two websites. As you might imagine, I spend hours at the computer.

5. Weather. Outside physical activity is difficult in Minnesota when the temperature is below zero and the wind chill freezes flesh. I know how to dress for the weather and enjoy walking in the snow, but have to be on constant alert for icy patches. The last thing I want to do is fall and break a hip.

Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and asthma,also make physical activity difficult for older adults. Have you identified your physical activity barriers? If not, you may wish to take the "Barriers to Being Active Quiz," posted by the CDC.

Twenty-one barriers are listed on the left and rating possibilities on the right. The ratings: very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, and very unlikely. At the end of the quiz you tally your score. It will reveal your barriers, which include lack of time, social influence, lack of willpower, fear of injury, lack of skill, and lack of resources. Once you have identified your barriers, you can work on overcoming them.

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