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Barriers to Physical Activity: A Glance at Income and Student Living

Edited by: Quaratulain Ahsan Khan


Let’s revisit physical health



Picture someone who you think is healthy. Classically we think of someone who is physically healthy or fit. We as a society place a considerable amount of emphasis on physical fitness onto our overall health, and for good reason. Physical inactivity causes a massive economic burden, costing the Canadian health care system $6.8 billion dollars per year [1]. We’ve discussed the health benefits and relevant diseases prevented by physical activity, but now let’s dive into it and why Canadians may be having difficulty.

According to Statistics Canada, only 16% of adults are meeting exercise guidelines [2]. CSEP recommends “moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activities such that there is an accumulation of at least 150 minutes per week” in addition to “muscle strengthening activities… at least twice a week” [3]. A Canadian survey conducted by ParticiPACTION reported that respondents from a sample of 100,000 people felt they themselves were most responsible [4]. 84% felt they were the cause of their physical inactivity and 88% considered themselves the solution.

What causes physical inactivity?

ParticiPACTION found that most respondents (56%) pointed to their daily activities of living including “commuting, busy schedules, screen-use and excessive sitting”. Most also think they could become more active with minimal changes (61%) that would not require a gym membership (88%). It appears to not stem from a lack of motivation or an aversion to the task which means Canadians feel positively about exercising. According to the ParticiPACTION:

  • Pleasant is the most common feeling

  • Joyful also appears near the top of the list

  • Canadians generally have positive feelings toward physical activity. They enjoy it while they do it and believe it’s worth the effort

The situation changes when narrowing down the population of interest. In 2009, Steenhuis interviewed low-income Dutch men and women and discovered the economic environment was the most common barrier to participating in sports [5]. For those who are facing financial difficulties, the cost of affording a gym membership for themselves or their children, not to mention the cost of appropriate athletic attire and equipment, all become important obstacles and that is only if they have the leisure time and energy to engage meaningfully with fitness activities. This is further complicated by those that rely on public transportation, require babysitting, have pre-existing health challenges, or feel insecure about their appearance.


A note on university students…

On the topic of busy schedules, university students happen to exhibit some interesting trends. A study of 512 university students led by Calestine showed that longer time spent studying, obtaining a higher GPA, longer social media use, and pursuing a higher credit load were all negative predictive factors for physical activity [6]. Time is certainly limited for students, and they may not be able to budget the hours for a traditional workout. Regarding students that commute long distances, accessing their campus gyms can be difficult to do consistently and they may be forced to look elsewhere. The combined burden of time spent commuting and the cost of tuition can be challenging to afford or justify a gym membership.

With obstacles accumulating, it can often feel discouraging to commence a goal, but for your convenience we have referenced a blog post below to explore alternative ways to meet activity guidelines without needing a gym - https://www.enayblehealth.org/post/limited-access-to-facilities-during-covid-what-s-currently-available

What should I remember?

  • 84% of adult Canadians are NOT meeting the fitness guidelines (150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise)

  • For those who are facing financial difficulties, the cost of affording a gym membership, appropriate athletic attire and equipment all become important obstacles.

  • This is further complicated by those that rely on public transportation, require babysitting or require paid assistance in a gym.

  • Regarding students, accessing their campus gym can be difficult and the combined burden of time spent commuting and the cost of tuition, can make it challenging to justify a gym membership.

  • How can you meet activity guidelines on a budget:

  • Take physical activity outside

  • Free Virtual physical activity

  • Active Transportation

  • Use household items as weights

References

  1. Janssen I. (2012). Health care costs of physical inactivity in Canadian adults. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37(4), 803–806. https://doi.org/10.1139/h2012-061

  2. Statistics Canada Government of Canada. (2019, April 17). Tracking physical activity levels of CANADIANS, 2016 and 2017. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190417/dq190417g-eng.htm. 

  3. CSEP. (n.d.). Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Adults ages 18-64 years: An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Sleep. CSEP | SCPE Adults 18-64. https://csepguidelines.ca/adults-18-64/. 

  4. ParticiPACTION Pulse Report. ParticipACTION Pulse Report. (n.d.). https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/resources/pulse-report. 

  5. Steenhuis, I. H., Nooy, S. B., Moes, M. J., & Schuit, A. J. (2009). Financial barriers and pricing strategies related to participation in sports activities: the perceptions of people of low income. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 6(6), 716–721. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1123/jpah.6.6.716

  6. Calestine, J., Bopp, M., Bopp, C. M., & Papalia, Z. (2017). College Student Work Habits are Related to Physical Activity and Fitness. International Journal of Exercise Science, 10(7), 1009–1017. 

Images https://mindyourmind.ca/wellness/physical-wellness-and-mental-health

https://www.picpedia.org/highway-signs/h/health-care.html

https://markhampubliclibrary.ca/blogs/post/celebrate-financial-awareness-day-by-getting-your-finances-in-order/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmhpictures/36971721561

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