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What Stops Us From Doing What We Know is Good for Us?

‘Exercise as medicine’ is a global initiative aimed at getting doctors to prescribe physical activity to their patients. While there is no other nondrug-related prescription that has as many benefits for health as physical activity the reality is that the majority of us aren’t physically active. As the title of this post asks: What stops us from doing what we know is good for us?!

Liechty, Genoe and Marston (see reference below) are leisure researchers who looked at experiences of physically active leisure in the transition to retirement. They conducted a study with 25 people near retirement or who had recently retired. There were three key ideas that reflected these study participants’ ideas about the role of physically active leisure in their lives:

1. Structure and Spontaneity: While all talked about the ‘freedom’ that retirement provided them, they also talked about the importance of having some level of structure in their days (e.g., daily routines). However, retirees also wanted to slow down from the more rushed and schedule-driven lifestyle they had while working. “Patty explained why she had quit participating in an aqua-size class: ‘I haven’t started up again. And part of that is that finding the right time for me, that early morning, rushing out the door, I’m not interested in ever doing that again’.” While some people reported that they needed the structure of a class to motivate them, others wanted to find activities that they could do spontaneously, such as biking around their local park.

2. Responding to New Constraints: Several study participants reported health-related concerns that made regularly engaging in physical activities challenging. However, rather than stopping, most “looked for leisure activities that provided them with the same benefits (e.g. spending time with family, being in nature), but did not present the same kinds of physical challenges”. They also tried out new strategies to overcome constraints or adjusted priorities. One such strategy was to increasingly value their health and use this as a motivator to be physically active. “David discussed his health concerns and subsequent increase in physical activity: I was feeling a little faint and a little weak…so I went and had it checked out and it turned out my glucose readings were high, so what can you do for that? Well, you can lose some weight….I didn’t diet, just increased my exercising.”

3. Physically Active Leisure as More Than Exercise: Choosing physical activities that were fun or enjoyable and that met important needs were the biggest motivators for study participants. One study participant was reported to say: “‘I don’t enjoy exercise at all! I find it more torture…My form of exercise is more working or doing yard work and stuff. I enjoy that more’.” The importance of the social environment was emphasized as well as activities that would provide multiple benefits at the same time: “Cynthia posted ‘I have chosen walking as an activity to relieve stress, for exercise and to enjoy the great outdoors.”

Thinking about your own retirement lifestyle planning:

If you aren’t sure what you could be doing to build more physically active fun into your life you might want to complete the Interests Inventory or Action Planning worksheets, available on the Resources page of this website.

Tips: If you want to get more physically active and have been struggling to do so, here’s some ideas to consider:

  • Create a weekly schedule for yourself that includes different types of physical activity. Remember, every little step or move matters!

  • The important thing is to choose activities that are important to you and find ways to make them enjoyable and fun.

  • Look for the multiple benefits available to you from these activities (e.g., sense of accomplishment, stress relief, etc.). Use these as motivators for taking action.

  • Check out available online or virtual physical activity programs that you can do in the comfort of your own home.

  • Find spaces that provide you the structure (or spontaneity) and supports you need; especially important are programs or places where opportunities for social interaction are possible.


Liechty, T., Genoe, R., & Marston, H. R. (2017). Physically active leisure and the transition to retirement: the value of context, Annals of Leisure Research, 20(1), 23-38.

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