Barrier Busters

There are many barriers (or perceived barriers) that people cite as reasons for not eating a healthy diet or being more physically active.

Here are the seven most commonly cited barriers to taking up a recreational activity. :

  • I don't have time to exercise.
  • None of my family or friends are active
  • I'm too tired.
  • I can't be bothered.
  • I'm afraid of getting hurt.
  • I don't think I can do it.
  • I can't afford it.

Common reasons for not eating well:

  • I don't have enough time to prepare healthy meals.
  • It costs too much to eat well.
  • I don't know what foods are best to eat.
  • I eat out a lot and find it hard to eat well.

As part of the process of changing their behaviour, people need to remove perceived or real barriers to adopting an active lifestyle. See "Moving Beyond the Barriers" below for suggestions to help motivate others.

Health Canada also offers some solutions to help people overcome common barriers to healthy eating.

Of course, personal barriers are not the only roadblock. In an environmental scan at the Centre for Active Living Alberta, mental health professionals identified several other barriers, and possible solutions. See "Beyond Personal Barriers" below. 

For more information about overcoming barriers to physical activity, see the Centre for Active Living Resource Directory.

Moving Beyond the Barriers

The following promotional opportunities, program ideas, and suggestions can be used to move beyond the obstacles that people commonly cite. Using these tools will help people enjoy the many benefits of being physically active and eating well.

Barrier Promotional Opportunities Program Ideas Text Suggestions
I don't have time

Identify for your audience (perhaps with an icon in program brochures) the moderate physical activities that can fit into daily life without taking much time out of the day.

Refer to the parts of Canada’s Physical Activity Guide and the US Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, which state that bouts of activity in 10-minute segments, accumulated to 30 to 60 minutes per day, are enough to show improvements in health.

Use children’s programs as an opportunity for parents to be active during the practice or game they are watching.

Distribute promotional material at places where people are waiting (e.g., hair salons, doctor’s offices).

Consider portable equipment, such as balls and skipping ropes that can be taken home and used at any time.

Consider various times during the day to offer your activity: morning, lunch break, after work or in the evening.

Assist worksites in setting up walking routes around the facility that will take about 10 minutes.

Be flexible. Loosen the structure of the activity so that people can arrive or leave according to their own schedules.

Set up adult activities opposite children’s practices and games.

Support active commuting opportunities in the community, such as biking or walking to work, so that people can be active in a functional way.

If food preparation is part of the program, ensure that leftovers are available to take home.

Provide nutrition tips that are easy and practical to incorporate into everyday life.

Prepare menus, shopping lists and recipe ideas for participants to take home.

Is your life too busy to exercise?

Do you think that eating well is expensive and complicated?

Have no time for sports/recreation? Here is a program just for you...

Make activity and eating well part of your life … Try to incorporate activity and healthy eating into your daily routine.

Healthy eating doesn’t need to take any more time than...

None of my family or friends are active

Offer moderate physical activity as a family activity or fun way to spend time with friends, requiring limited commitment.

Promote reduced fees for family activities.

Promote features of the facility that are family-friendly, such as family change rooms and breastfeeding spaces.

Promote activity-oriented gifts, such as free pedometers.

Promote discounts or special pricing for registering with a buddy.

Don’t rely on traditional methods of distribution; go where inactive people are (especially in areas close to your program).

Ensure promotional material is attractive to all age groups, genders and ethnicities.

Show whole families participating in your activity.

Use simple, clear and concise language in promotional materials.

Consider activities that would be of common interest to all family members, regardless of physical capabilities.

Have a special physical activity event at a local gathering place, such as a zoo.

Offer a special evening drop-in activity for families at the local school or recreation centre.

Provide community garden opportunities for families.

Ensure promotional material is attractive to all age groups, genders, ethnicities.

Show whole families participating in your activity.

Language used in promotional materials should be simple, clear and concise.

Bring your family and friends ...

All family welcome to ...

Get to know your neighbours at ...

Families who play together, stay together. Come join us at ...

Discover new friends at ...

I'm too tired Distribute your promotional material to homes and businesses in the local vicinity rather than those far away, so that less time and energy are required to get to the program.

Get the message out that after work is not the only time of day when one can be physically active.

Market eating well and physical activity as ways to enhance quality of life and overall sense of well-being, reduce stress and give you more energy.

Give examples in your promotional material of the activities you offer and explain the benefits.

Include testimonials in your promotional material from real people describing the increase in energy they experienced from incorporating eating well and physical activity into their routine.

Introduce flexible timing of events or sessions to circumvent the tiredness that many people feel after work or after dinner, and to accommodate different schedules.

Provide nutritional tips on energy boosting meals and snacks.

Incorporate shopping lists, menu planning and food preparation tips as part of time management skills for healthy eating.

Consider equipment that can be used where and when time and energy permit.

Offer personal trainer-type services or activity programs customized to people’s schedules.


Feeling tired? Come and get energized at ...

Need some energy? Get revitalized with ...

Try these energy boosting snacks …


I can't be bothered Promote a cross-training approach: As well as coming to a program once a week, endorse the idea of doing something at other times as well that is less structured, or can be done from home or elsewhere. Then people can work toward more frequent visits, over time.

Publicize the benefits of healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle, while addressing the barriers. Folks who are still trying to make up their mind about coming need convincing.

Let participants bring a friend or buddy to an already existing program. Buddies can help motivate each other.

Offer team or league activities. Being part of a team enhances commitment.

Offer a punchcard system of registering rather than a sessional rate to facilitate drop-ins.

Provide a supportive environment by offering convenient hours of operation, child care and easy parking.

Consider unique activities that might spark interest.

Keep activities and the access process as simple as possible (e.g., online registration).

Create snack teams. Each team collaborates to plan snacks for a weekly program. Food costs can be covered by the program.

Set up a walking group that meets regularly.

Mark this on your calendar and come to ...

Make this part of your daily/weekly routine ...

Participate in this program and reap these benefits ...

Just like tying your shoes, schedule (insert activity) into your daily plans.


I'm afraid of getting hurt Emphasize activities that are simple and achievable, such as:
  • holding a walk-a-thon at a shopping mall
  • organizing a beautification clean-up project
  • organizing an historic walking tour.

Let them know that strengthening your body can prevent injury.

Show the age group (especially seniors) in the promotional material.

Offer a low-skill or no-risk activity. If some skill is necessary, teach an introductory skill at the beginning of the activity.

Consider making the activity into a social event, especially for seniors groups.

Provide activities that are non-competitive.

The ABLE program — Age Better with a Little Exercise.

Strengthening your body can prevent injury.

Participating in active recreation is like having an apple a day!

Try it ... stay young.

It doesn’t have to hurt ... activity should make you feel good.

Build up gently; start slowly. Any activity is always better than none at all.

I don't think I can do it Build physical activity and healthy eating skills by demonstrating different types of moderate physical activity and food preparation and letting the target audience practise those skills. For example:
  • Offer a one-night introduction to a program just for beginners.
  • Offer a free coupon to try your program for a day, a week, a month.

Promote moderate physical activity with an image the audience will relate to: fun, upbeat, practical.

List easy practical ways that participants can succeed at your program.

Make the activity upbeat, fun and practical.

Teach introductory skills in the activity.

Institute a rewards system for certain target groups (e.g., children, youth).

Consider unique activities with limited competition and limited skill requirements.

Set group goals.

Share celebrations – no matter how small.


Learn new skills — our class is designed with you in mind.

If you want to learn about (insert activity), contact (insert contact info) for a free (and/or) an introductory session.

Try it. It’s never too late.

Try it — it’s cool.

We can do it together ...

I can't afford it Promote free or low-cost ways to obtain moderate physical activity, such as:
  • walking in municipal parks, or in your own neighbourhood
  • participating in a park or river cleanup
  • using parks, biking and hiking trails, public tennis courts and swimming pools, highlighting where these activities can be done on a community map.

Promote practical tips on how to eat well on a budget, such as:

  • taking trips to local farmers markets
  • offering grocery store tours to discuss lower-cost options
  • preparing economical recipes together
  • promoting community kitchens and community gardens.

Show a variety of free activities that provide moderate physical activity (e.g., mowing the lawn, raking, gardening, cleaning the house).


Provide free or low-cost activities.

Consider family and other activities that require no equipment, involve free TV, or take place at community fairs.

Be active, for free. Come to (insert place).

There are a number of ways to stretch your food dollar…. Come and learn how…

Come and learn to eat well, stay healthy and save money all at the same time!

Adapted from Moving beyond the Barriers, Active 2010.

Beyond Personal Barriers

In an environmental scan at the Centre for Active Living Alberta, mental health professionals identified several other barriers, and possible solutions, as follows:

The medical model: Promoting physical activity is not a first line of treatment.

  • Continue to put physical activity on the agenda at meetings.
  • Use professional development days to educate coworkers on the benefits.

Role of the physician and other health care professionals: Consumer activities may not be any part of their job responsibilities.

  • Use peer leaders, volunteers and other staff members where possible.
  • Keep your program simple.
  • Delegate responsibilities to consumers.
  • Get assistance from partnerships.

Lack of buy-in from staff, consumers and management.

  • Use the business case as an opportunity to showcase why promoting physical activity and offering programs to consumers is a cost-saving measure (as well as a benefit to consumers).

Finding the time to organize a program: Time will always be an issue.

  • Continue to put physical activity programming high on the priority list of things to offer.
  • Encourage staff and volunteers to directly observe the benefits for consumers and even themselves, as they add to their own activity level while working with consumers.

Transportation/access: Transportation cost and accessibility are often issues for this consumer population.

  • Offer bus tickets.
  • Make use of car-pooling.
  • Find activity opportunities that are close to home.
  • See if partners will assist with getting participants to a program.
  • Solicit support in your community at (for example) sponsorships and fundraising events.

The challenges of stigma: It may be hard to know what messages to give, especially when programming involves the community at large.

  • Although this may be an issue, it is also an opportunity to educate the public and location and program providers on how to offer inclusive programming.
  • Use sponsorships and fundraising events as an opportunity to educate the public on the benefits of being active.

Isolation: Many people with mental illness find themselves socially isolated. Networking and increased social support is a benefit to staff and volunteers, as well; social support is one of the many benefits cited by all participants.

  • As people become active, their social network will expand, not only with other consumers but possibly also in the larger community.
  • Being more active can get people outside walking, running, biking or involved in a program that will give them a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of their home.
  • Support (or, if necessary, begin) community efforts to make our built environment more walkable. (This is also another step toward including all members of a community.)

Adapted from the Alberta Centre for Active Living.