The Health Belief Model
The Health Belief Model
In this blog, we explain the Health Belief Model and why it’s useful for personal trainers working in the health and fitness industry to understand its principles.
This also links in with a previous Blog we released on the Stage of Readiness.
What is the Health Belief Model?
The Health Belief Model is a theory that aims to explain how individuals decide what to do when they have various options open to them. This includes questions such as why some individuals use health services available to them and others don’t.
The Health Belief Model was first developed in the 1950s and the Health and Fitness Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published an article by Blanche Mikhail of the Boston University School of Nursing in Massachusetts in 1981, in which she defines the model as follows:
“The health belief model (HBM) is a psychosocial formulation developed to explain health-related behaviour at the level of individual decision making.”
Before we can fully analyse the Health Belief Model, we need to understand what health behaviours are. Health behaviours are defined as activities undertaken by an apparently healthy individual, in order to prevent disease or to detect it at an asymptomatic stage.
Essentially, it explains why a person will change their behaviour in the belief that it will have a positive effect on their health in the long run. Because of their role, personal trainers will often encounter clients who are looking to alter their overall approach to health and fitness.
Factors that influence behaviour
There are many factors that can affect people’s behaviour when it comes to their health. These include:
- Socio-economic status
- Cultural values
However, they can also be affected by:
- Peer pressure
- Parental pressure
- Time available
- Job demands
- Family commitments
A fitness professional should be aware that there may be more than one reason behind a person’s behaviour. However, if they also seek out the most influential reason, they can focus on this to help the client change their behaviour for the better.
Benefits of the Health Belief Model
Anyone working in the health and fitness profession can use the Health Belief Model to identify the various different areas of a client’s lifestyle that have a bearing on whether or not they choose to take part in regular exercise.
Following the model can help an individual feel like they have more control over their life and the choices they make, which can improve their self esteem and reduce stress levels. In addition, a personal trainer can help the client make positive choices about their health, including how often they exercise. So the fitness professional can steer a client towards improved physical and mental wellbeing.
Why a fitness professional should use the Health Belief Model
It’s important for a personal trainer to be aware that some clients don’t have very good decision-making skills and may struggle to choose options for themselves. By understanding the process that people go through to make decisions, as described by the Health Belief Model, a fitness professional can better help the client.
The main reason for a personal trainer to refer to the Health Belief Model is to allow them to educate a client to understand the health benefits of exercise and how it can help them reach their goals. This may be to decrease body fat, increase muscle mass or strengthen bones, but it can also be about the beneficial effect of exercise on organs such as the heart, or as a route into positive mental health.
A client who understands the benefits of exercise is more likely to be motivated to follow a programme in a gym setting or to exercise in their own time. By giving a clear explanation of how specific exercises can help the client, a personal trainer will also be promoting their own services.
Educating a potential client is important, as Blanche Mikhail stated in her article:
“Even if an individual is ready to act, the likelihood of taking action depends on beliefs about the probable effectiveness of the action in reducing the health threat and about the difficulties that must be encountered if such action is taken.”
In other words, someone may be thinking about starting an exercise programme but they may be put off by outside factors, such as a friend who has been exercising but has not achieved their goals, for example weight loss. Part of a personal trainer’s role is to explain such things as the process of weight loss and the other less visible benefits of regular exercise
Another good example is people with back pain, who commonly believe that they should not be exercising. By employing the Health Belief Model, a fitness instructor can help them understand the benefits of exercise for relieving and preventing back pain and cause a change in their behaviour.