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Health and Physical Activity: An Ecological Approach

Health and Physical Activity: The Individual


To address health concerns on an individual level, you can:

  • Educate individuals about the health benefits of physical activity
  • Educate individuals about the ways physical activity impacts chronic conditions
  • Provide information on exercises and activities that are appropriate for specific age groups or unique health conditions
  • Listen carefully to clients or members to learn exactly what it is about their physical health, mental health, or perceptions of health that encourage or discourage them to be active

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Health and Physical Activity: The Social Environment


Try the following strategies to address health concerns at a social level:

  • Encourage the buddy system to help overcome fear (e.g., fear of doing something wrong, fear of hurting oneself, etc.)
  • Recognize that fears exist—do not dismiss or belittle them
  • Train staff so they can adapt programs and/or provide appropriate activities for people of all ages and ability levels and with unique health conditions
  • Encourage those who use health as a goal to be active
  • Seek support from health care providers in reinforcing the importance of physical activity
  • Develop post-rehabilitation plans for clients who are leaving rehabilitation centres

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Health and Physical Activity: The Physical Environment


Some strategies for addressing health concerns in the physical environment include:

  • Examining your facility to determine if changes can be made to the physical environment that will ease the concerns of individuals with health issues.
    • Is a first aid kit easily accessible and visible?
    • Is an AED (automated external defibrillator) easily accessible and visible?
    • Are chairs in areas where they may be needed?
    • Are safety grips provided on exercise equipment?
      Note: The Physical Access section provides other excellent ideas
  • Advocating and/or planning for features in the built environment that will encourage participation from individuals with health-related issues
    • Benches at regular intervals on walking paths and common areas
    • Street lights with a longer duration for wheelchair users or pedestrians who need more time to cross
    • Well-maintained paths and sidewalks
    • Paths and trails regularly patrolled and marked with up-to-date signage indicating distance and difficulty
    • Public phones and transportation services available in recreation locations

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Health and Physical Activity: Policies and Regulations


Health concerns can be addressed by developing policy and implementing regulations. You can contribute at this level by:

  • Ensuring safety and emergency procedures are in place
  • Implementing hiring practices that ensure staff are available who are trained to work with individuals with a variety of abilities and health conditions
  • Advocating for and implementing fee policies that ensure services and programs are affordable for all (See the Social Access section for specific ideas.)
  • Advocating for work-place health and wellness fund and incentives

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Health and Physical Activity: Useful Links


Brazeau, A., Rasbasa-Lhoret, R., Strychar, I., & Micescu, H. (2008). Barriers to physical activity among patients with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 31, 2108–2109. doi:10.2337/dc08-0720

Rasinaho, M., Hirvensalo, M., Leinonen R., Lintunen, T., & Rantanen T. (2007). Motives for and barriers to physical activity among older adults with mobility limitations. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 15, 90–102.

McDevitt, J., Snyder, M., Miller, A., & Wilbur, J. (2006). Perceptions of barriers and benefits to phsycial activity among outpatients in psychiatric rehabilitation. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 38, 50–55.


Quick links in Creating Change section

Individual Level

Social Environment Level
Social Connections
Social Access

Physical Environment Level
Built Environment and Active Transportation
Physical Access
Natural Environment