The Importance Of Long-Term Behaviour Change In Developing Patients’ Health And Fitness
Every time we make a decision, we are influenced by a variety of factors, and it is no different when it comes to making choices about our health and fitness.
Anyone working as an exercise referral instructor – whether personal trainer or other fitness professional – should be aware of each client’s personal circumstances, background and influences, all of which can be strong determinants or barriers to adopting healthy behaviours over the long term.
What influences people to choose a healthier lifestyle?
There is often more than one factor at play and every client will be influenced by different factors to varying degrees.
An exercise referral instructor will need to find out what these factors are, work out which have the most influence over the client and decide which barriers are the most challenging for that individual.
To this end, they should learn what the issues are that affect the decision-making process for each client.
Nine key factors that influence health choices for personal training clients
Most of the factors that influence a referred client’s choices on healthier behaviour come under the following nine headings:
- Role models – these can be family, friends or people in roles of responsibility such as teachers. Role models can exert a strong influence over an individual’s choices. An exercise referral instructor should encourage clients to seek out positive role models and to get involved with fitness groups/clubs.
- Social pressure – the media can be a powerful influencer through healthier living campaigns and a fitness professional can use promotional material to encourage better health and fitness choices. Clients may conform or rebel depending on how they and their peers respond to social pressure.
- Education – this should provideclear factual information on the positive benefits and negative impact of lifestyle choices around exercise and health. From an early age, children should be educated on how keeping active and eating well will help to prevent disease in later life.
- Age – the older we get, the less active we tend to be. Additionally, some children today are less active due to the rise of online distractions such as computer games. A fitness professional can help by promoting exercise for people of all ages and encouraging clients to look at a range of activities that will appeal to their age. This could be active play for younger children and joining sports teams or taking part in group exercise or dance classes for older children and adults.
- Gender – expectations can be for boys/men to be more socially active in sport and girls/women to socialise in other ways, so promotional material should show all genders taking part in physical activity.
- Socio-economic status – people from a higher socio-economic background with more money and better education are more likely to join a gym and buy healthier food. Keeping fitness provision affordable can help to engage with disadvantaged communities, for example by offering concession prices or group discounts.
- Cultural/religious beliefs – these can range from a general culture of inactivity, excessive drinking and choosing fast-food over healthy options to cultural and religious beliefs that require women to cover their bodies or only exercise with others of the same sex. Activities should be designed to target all groups, in ways and at locations where they feel comfortable.
- Accessibility of exercise – this can depend on where a client lives, for example there are usually more opportunities to attend the gym or join a sports club in towns and cities than in the countryside. Conversely, there may be a lack of green spaces in built-up areas, compared with rural locations. Safe places to exercise outdoors can help, as can additional transportation to allow people to access locations where exercise is taking place.
- Psychological factors – some clients will avoid exercise because they believe that they are too old, overweight or unfit to take part. Health issues can also be a barrier, even when exercise could alleviate their condition. Other reasons given can include lack of time or money – or simply not seeing themselves as the kind of person who exercises. Psychological factors can be serious barriers to keeping active; ideas that can help include providing role models and ensuring there is a wide range of images of people exercising in marketing materials – not just the super-fit. Counselling may also help, as can self-help groups and buddy systems.
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