How fear of getting sick or dying can motivate change

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What motivates you? Do health wellness messages that present physical activity as a path to “greener pastures” make you want to put on your sneakers and go jogging? Or is the apocalypse scrolling scorched earth messages warning of all the horrible things that could happen if you not to start eating healthier, exercising more and sitting less start a motivational fire in your belly?

Do the happy allure of self-produced endocannabinoids, the experience of a runner, and the feeling of happiness after vigorous training motivate you to seek regular physical activity? Or are you more motivated by fear of sedentary-related illnesses and subconscious images of a grim reaper wielding a scythe ending your life early if you sit down too much?

In many ways, exercise motivation is like a double-edged sword or yin-yang symbol with a “dark side” and a “light side”.

On the dark side, some people are motivated by all the negative things (eg week.

On the bright side, there is the “hanging carrot approach” of focusing on all the positive things that are more likely to happen (eg. to do get enough exercise every week.

Maybe the “sweat = happiness” message isn’t the best way to motivate people?

The caption of this blog, “Sweat and the Biology of Happiness”, sums up my general philosophy and my approach to exercising motivation. As someone who has spent my adult life trying to create compelling health communication that motivates people to exercise more and sit less, I have mainly focused on the wellness aspects. (ie “sweat = happiness”) of the workout.

Generally, I’m more interested in presenting the “greener pastures” that are available for each so called “couch potato” if they start moving more than dwelling on the negativity of getting sick and dying. prematurely if someone remains sedentary throughout their adult life.

That said, new research suggests my upbeat, cheerful approach to health messages might be a little too Pollyanna-ish.

A recent Canadian study (Oyibo, 2021) examines how people respond to different health messages and “nudges” designed to motivate behavior change through a fitness app. These one-of-a-kind findings were published in a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Information titled “Designing digital health technologies as persuasive technologies”.

Health messages related to illness and death stimulate motivation.

During this study, Kiemute Oyibo of the University of Waterloo found that messages related to illness or death are a very effective way of boosting people’s motivation to change their behavior.

But pessimistic or gloomy health messages don’t always motivate people to change their behavior. Oyibo research shows that users of fitness apps were not encouraged to “sit less and move more” if the nudging focused on obesity, health care costs nationally related to sedentary lifestyle or the social stigma of being overweight.

As you can see in the table below, study participants were not motivated by impersonal money-related public health messages (e.g. suffers from clinical obesity. ” shame about the social stigma associated with being overweight also did not have a positive impact on people’s motivation.

Source: Kiemute Oyibo (2021) from the open access journal Information (CC BY 4.0)

This graph shows the perceived motivation profile for five types of messages. The average perceived motivation levels of health messages are on a seven point scale. The cross bar represents the neutral value and the vertical bar represents the 95% confidence interval.

Source: Kiemute Oyibo (2021) from the open access journal Information (CC BY 4.0)

Unexpectedly, the men and women who participated in this study were the most motivated by death-related messages, such as “Six percent of deaths worldwide are caused by physical inactivity” and stroke. elbow related to disease, such as “Those who cannot find time to exercise, will have to find time for disease.”

“I didn’t expect that only the messages related to illness and death would be meaningful and motivating,” said Oyibo, postdoctoral researcher in the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, in a press release. “Not only were the messages related to illness and death motivating, but they had a significant relationship with belief in self-regulation and expectations for outcomes, and there was no significant difference between men. and women. “

Oyiba notes that this study is important because it can help public health advocates and those who design fitness and wellness apps create more effective and compelling health communication.

It also encourages future research to examine how other demographics beyond gender (eg, age, culture, race, and education) influence exercise motivation. Knowing what prompts specific demographic groups to change their lifestyle could help app designers create convincing health communication optimally for targeted segments of the general population.


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