As mentioned in the introduction, more than a quarter of adults report being inactive (i.e. do less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week).  Inactivity is much more common among certain population groups, including those living in socially deprived circumstances, older people, people with disabilities and certain minority ethnic communities (see Inequalities section).

The beneficial effect of physical activity for the prevention of a range of chronic diseases is widely acknowledged. These chronic conditions are most pronounced in economically disadvantaged groups where physical activity levels are consistently lower, yet these groups are particularly difficult to recruit and retain in physical activity programmes. A research study on barriers and enablers to engaging low income groups in physical activity programmes noted the following factors: 1

  • participants reported cost, childcare, lack of time and low awareness as barriers to joining activity classes
  • the need for support, confidence and competence in order to take up activity was widely expressed, particularly among women
  • once people are active, high levels of social interaction, interest and enjoyment are associated with improved levels of retention.

Based on research in Australia, among older people, ill health and lack of people to exercise with can be perceived as barriers. Making time to be active was considered to be an enabler for physical activity by members of this group. 2 A comparison of research from several countries on motivators and barriers to physical activity among older people highlights the following factors: 3

  • common physical activity motivators – positive expectations, feeling healthy, social support, easy access to facilities or affordable community-based programmes, guidance or encouragement from health professionals, and institutional encouragement
  • common physical activity barriers – health problems, lack of support, cultural/social norms, functional ability, and the fear of falling and injury.

The barriers and facilitators to physical activity for people with disabilities vary with the type of disability that the person has. Social support from family and friends has been consistently positively related to regular physical activity, as with other groups. 4 There are common threads in research on understanding causes of lower levels of physical activity among people with disabilities, with barriers to participation including: 5

  • poor physical education (PE) provision in schools and negative school experiences
  • low expectations from teachers, families and peers
  • lack of knowledge of what is available
  • lack of information and expertise
  • poor community facilities and lack of access to facilities and programmes
  • ad hoc structures and approaches
  • transport difficulties
  • lack of coverage of a wide range of sports in the media
  • lack of experience of the benefits of physical activity
  • untrained staff and lack of accessible facilities
  • lack of companions who can facilitate/assist people with disabilities to access facilities and programmes when required.

Among people from minority ethnic groups (recognising that factors will vary between and within groups), the research suggests that barriers and enablers can be grouped by the following themes: 6

  • perceived personal barriers (such as lack of motivation)
  • socio-economic barriers (such as lack of funds to pay for activities or childcare)
  • cultural barriers (such as perceptions of exercise)
  • environmental barriers (availability of facilities, for example).

The attitudes of participants towards physical activity are also affected by other cultural factors such as language barriers, religion and cultural dress codes, and lack of availability of women only sessions at sport facilities.

For further local context, the rest of this sub-section draws on evidence from the 2015 Hackney resident health and wellbeing survey carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Hackney Council. 7 This survey (based on a sample size of 1,009) asked a number of questions relevant to the barriers and facilitators to physical activity among adult (age 16+) residents and their children.  Relevant findings from another local survey, this time of children and young people (aged 11-19) in Hackney carried out by Rockpool Associates in 2012, are also referenced (this survey involved a sample size of 844). 8


  1. J. Withall, R. Jago and K. R. Fox, “Why some do but most don’t: barriers and enablers to engaging low-income groups in physical activity programmes,” BMC Public Health, vol. 11, no. 507, 2011.
  2. R. Macniven, V. Pye, D. Merom, A. Milat, C. Monger, A. Bauman and H. Van der Ploeg, “Barriers and enablers to physical activity among older Australians who want to increase their physial activity levels,” Jorunal of Physical Activity and Health, vol. 11, no. 7, 2014.
  3. R. Rosenkranz, C. S. Kolt, J. Brown and J. Berentson-Shaw, “A review of enablers and barriers to physical activity participation among older people of New Zealand and international populations,” vol. 14, no. 4, 2013.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , “People with disabilities: Surgeon General report,” 1999.
  5. National Disability Authority, “Promoting the participation of people with disabilities in physical activity and sport in Ireland,” 2005.
  6. S. Koshoedo, P. Simkhada and E. Van Teijlingen, “Review of barriers to engaging black and minority ethnic groups in physical activity in the United Kingdom,” Global Journal of Health Science, vol. 1, no. 2, 2009.
  7. Ipsos MORI, “Health and Wellbeing in Hackney: survey report for Hackney Council,” 2015.
  8. Rockpool Research Associates, “Healthy lives in Hackney: Young people’s health attitudes and behaviours,” 2012.