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“I don’t have the heart”: a qualitative study of barriers to and facilitators of physical activity for people with coronary heart disease and depressive symptoms

Michelle C Rogerson1*, Barbara M Murphy12, Stephen Bird3 and Tony Morris4

Author Affiliations

1 Heart Research Centre, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, PO Box 2137, Post Office, Melbourne, VIC, 3050, Australia

2 Department of Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne, Grattan St, Parkville, VIC, 3052, Australia

3 Health Innovations Research Institute and School of Medical Sciences, RMIT University, PO Box 71, Bundoora, VIC, 3083, Australia

4 School of Sport and Exercise Science & Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL), Victoria University, PO Box 14428, Melbourne, VIC, 8001, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:140  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-140

Published: 30 November 2012



Physical activity has been shown to reduce depression in people with coronary heart disease (CHD), however many people with CHD do not engage in sufficient levels of physical activity to reap its positive effects. People with depression and CHD are at particular risk of non-adherence to physical activity. Little is known about the barriers to and facilitators of physical activity for people with CHD and depressive symptoms. Using qualitative interviews, the aim of this study was to explore the barriers to and facilitators of physical activity for cardiac patients with depressive symptoms.


Fifteen participants with CHD and depressive symptoms (assessed using the Cardiac Depression Scale) participated in in-depth semi-structured interviews. The interviews were focussed on investigating participants’ experiences of physical activity since their cardiac event. Interviews were content analysed to determine major themes.


Participants identified a number of barriers to and facilitators of physical activity. Barriers included having negative perceptions towards health and life changes as a result of the cardiac event, having low mood and low motivation to exercise, feeling physically restricted towards or fearful of exercise, lacking knowledge regarding exercise and perceiving external barriers. Facilitators included having a reason for exercising, being able to identify the psychological benefits of exercise, having positive social support and using psychological strategies. ‘Inactive’ participants reported more barriers and fewer facilitators than did ‘active’ participants.


The barriers reported in this study were highly salient for a number of participants. Health professionals and researchers can use this information to assist people with CHD and depressive symptoms to identify and possibly overcome barriers to physical activity. Relevant barriers and facilitators could be taken into account to increase their effectiveness when designing interventions to encourage physical activity maintenance in this population.

Coronary heart disease; Depressive symptoms; Physical activity; Barriers; Facilitators; Qualitative