Healthy Thinking Increases Healthy Behaviors

Exercise is critical for the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Physical conditions such as obesity can be prevented with proper and regular exercise. Additionally, people who participate in regular exercise are less likely to be at risk for physiological and psychological conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. But what factors influence a person’s decision to begin an exercise regimen? Additionally, what factors affect an individual’s likelihood to maintain an exercise program? To answer these questions, Britta Renner of the Department of Psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany recently led a study that examined the motivating forces behind the decision to begin and continue an exercise program among 389 middle-aged adults from Finland. The study assessed individuals who were part of lifestyle intervention program designed to prevent and diminish the risk for diabetes. Renner evaluated the participants’ beliefs about exercise and levels of exercise at the beginning of the program and again 3 months and 1 year postintervention.

Renner’s goal was to determine what motivated participants to begin the exercise regimen and what motivated specific individuals to continue their behaviors after the intervention ended. Additionally, Renner assessed the cognitive and physical improvements of the participants at follow-up. She found that self-efficacy played an important role in the decision to begin and maintain healthy behaviors. Specifically, Renner discovered that individuals with the lowest levels of self-efficacy prior to intervention saw the largest improvements in self-efficacy after the intervention. In other words, those with the least desire to exercise, due to psychological barriers such as mood issues or negative beliefs about the effects of exercise, exhibited the biggest increases in their ability to overcome those obstacles and limiting beliefs. These gains in self-efficacy led directly to planning behaviors that resulted in higher levels of participation and maintenance of exercise among the participants. Renner also found that the participants who maintained their programs had better physical and psychological health than those who discontinued the program. Renner said, “Health cognitions are amenable to change, and these changes are adaptive—that is, they are accompanied or followed by behavior changes.” She believes that these findings could help clinicians design more effective interventions that target both psychological and physical improvement in individuals at risk for health conditions.

Renner, B., Hankonen, N., Ghisletta, P., Absetz, P. (2012). Dynamic psychological and behavioral changes in the adoption and maintenance of exercise. Health Psychology 31.3, 306-315.

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  • Bret


    July 2nd, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    Hmm I always thought why it is so hard for some people to take care of their health and maintain a physical activity regime but seems like we’re all different.But the good thing is that a little prep and one can continue his fitness regime.We need to allow ourselves to just go get that initial push somehow.

  • Natalie


    July 2nd, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    What motivates me to exercise is the feeling that I know I will have AFTER the exercise is over. You run a few miles and you get this incredible high that nothing else can match. The actual doing it might take a little bit of effort, but once you start the habit, you start to not like how you feel if you DON’T get that workout in for the day.

  • Nicholas Dean

    Nicholas Dean

    July 3rd, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    I have found that if I sechedule my exercise in the same way that I schedule business meetings and dates, then I am far more likely to stick to it than I would be otherwise.

    This is something that you have to make a priority in life just like anything else that is important to you.

    Exercise is something that you have to make a habit, and like any habit it takes time to develop and nurture, But you can get there.

  • bettye


    July 3rd, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    So much of this is in the head. I was diagnosed with pre diabetes a couple of years ago. I was overweight and tired and ate all the wrong things and was basically told that if I did not make some changes then I was going to be faced with a hard medical future. So I decided to change the way that I was living. I DECIDED TO MAKE A CHANGE. I started thinking about life in a whole different way. The diagnosis actually made me stop and think that I do have control over things, the things that I eat and the things that I do that are hurting me. I stopped smoking. I lost weight. I started exercising. And I paid more attention to how I felt overall. It worked. I am now at my ideal weight and all signs of diabetes are gone. I am managing my life day to day and not just looking for the next snack to fill me up. This is such a better place to be, and it all began with changing my mind about the things in life that are important to me.

  • Ronald


    July 3rd, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Does it really increase healthy behavior?
    Generally for me it just increases my feeling guilty over the things I don’t do.

  • SZ


    July 3rd, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    This is also the reason why some ppl r able to stick to their workout schedules while some others go on not using their gym memberships on a regular basics…If only we could somehow ‘impart’ this feeling of wanting to follow the schedule…!

  • Megan


    July 5th, 2012 at 4:35 AM

    It is SO much easier to think about getting healthy than it is to actually accomplis it, but I want to be around for a very long time for my friends and my family so I am dedicated to keeping up an active lifestyle and eating right so that I can do just that. A lot of what we feed the body (ie food and exercise) then feeds the mind. If you are taking care of the body than many times the rest will take care of itself. You have to think healthy thoughts before you can actually achieve that goal. This change is progressive and takes time, but if you set your mind to it and it is something that’s important to you then you will be able to do it.

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