Barriers and Pain for Physical Activity – Maura Murphy

Barriers and Pain for Physical Activity

Perceptions and Reality

Hi, I’m Maura Murphy, I’m secretary of the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO) and I am going to give you a snapshot of the reality of the barriers I face when it comes to health.

I live in a rural area in Ireland where country roads are quite narrow. It is too dangerous to walk near my home so I have to drive 20 minutes to an athletics track daily. Carrying extra weight for many years has caused me problems such as arthritis of the knees and hips. I have had one knee replacement. My pain level on any given day, and how my joints hold up, means that this athletics track is the only safe place where I can quickly return to my car if needs be.  The full round of this track is 1000 steps, on a good day I can manage three rounds, but in reality, any day I get out onto this track is a good day.


Going for a swim:  I love to go for a swim, I feel lighter in the water. I can swim longer than I can walk.  The reality is there are barriers here too.  I cannot pull myself out of a pool via a ladder. I need steps.

The changing rooms, I avoid communal changing rooms as it is impossible for me to dress or undress in front of others, especially children, this is due to my hanging skin on my arms and my stomach. With overhanging loose skin and to prevent irritation and redness leading to blisters, after my shower I place a row of cotton wool under my tummy and under my breasts, this padding has to be replaced a few times a day due to hygiene.  It is difficult to speak about this but this is a major upsetting barrier in my life. I need privacy for this plus I need a decent sized personal changing room.


Parking my car: In every car park that I drive into I have to drive around looking for a corner space that will enable me to open my car door fully. The reality is, I’m unlikely to find a space wide enough to open the door in order to get my two legs out onto the ground. I cannot manage getting out on one leg with my arthritis. If my journey is for a hospital appointment, my solution is to arrive at least an hour early to find a corner space where I can open the door fully, and very importantly to be able to get back into my car when my appointment is over. There have been many times I have had to ask a stranger to back out my car in car parks where the spacing’s are too narrow, this happens regularly at hospital visits. Often the pay and display is far away and this can cause me to arrive for my appointment in a state of anxiety.

Queue’s Back pain is often spoken about in our weekly support group meetings at ICPO. Standing in a queue appears to aggravate this pain with the result that any form of queueing can be very painful and will probably be avoided by most people living with overweight and or obesity. Shopping on line is a double edged sword, it allows a person with weight to not have to queue in shops to pay for goods but the down side of this is the isolation it can cause for the person who is living with overweight or obesity. They can miss out on the interaction of communication with the community they live in.


Public Transport: Public transport can particularly be a nightmare for anyone who is overweight or lives with obesity. Buses, Trains and Aeroplanes can cause such stigma and embarrassment for a PwO.  I avail of the train many times throughout the year, I would not be able to stand for any distance so I must find a seat. As I am on Disability I have a free travel pass, which is great, but I cannot book a seat in advance. I could during Covid, but of course due to co-morbidities I was in lockdown for over 18 months so this new service was of no real use to me.
Prior to this, I have had to sit on the floor of a train from Dublin to Mullingar quite a few times and would have to ask some kind stranger to help me back up onto my feet when a seat would come available. I love travelling by train to Dublin for the day as I love history and I enjoy visiting galleries and museums but I must check them out on line prior to visiting them to see where the seating is, and if there is a coffee shop where I can take a rest in between my explorations.

When travelling on a bus, especially a rural one, I now find the step is quite high, I always feel under pressure to “hurry up” everyone is waiting. If the seat beside me is empty it will be the very last seat to be used by anyone getting on the bus, that’s just a fact.

Outings: Planning in advance of any social event is essential for me. If it’s a family meal or party I would google the venue to examine distance between tables, where the toilets are, what the parking facilities are and as I am post bariatric surgery, what the menu is, because I cannot eat very large portions so I have to choose carefully. If the venue only has booths to sit in I will kindly decline the invitation without giving any reason. I know I will not fit into a booth. Eddie Rockets will never see me!

The perception can be that people living with obesity are not often looking after their health when the reality is we face these barriers DAILY. And those barriers continue even after bariatric surgery.

Discussing these experiences is not always easy but sharing knowledge will hopefully in time lessen stigma and bring about better understanding of this chronic relapsing disease called obesity.





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