Effects of Physical Activity Recommendations on Mindset, Behavior, and Perceived Health

Effects of Physical Activity Recommendations on Mindset, Behavior, and Perceived Health

By
Octavia Zahrt, Alia Crum
Preventive Medicine Reports. March
2020, Vol. 17

This research sought to understand if physical activity recommendations — an integral component of many interventions aiming to promote physical activity — may have unexpected effects on individuals’ mindsets (in this case about the adequacy and health consequences of their physical activity) that can strengthen or weaken recommendation effectiveness. Participants were students and staff at a U.S. West Coast private university, recruited between 2016 and 2019. Two experiments with one-week follow-up periods investigated the effects of viewing recommendations that prescribe a lower (vs. higher) amount of physical activity and provide a liberal (vs. stringent) definition of what counts as physical activity on individuals’ mindsets about the adequacy and health consequences of their physical activity, as well as physical activity-related self-efficacy, physical activity behavior, and perceived health.

Study 1 (N = 157) showed that exposure to low-and-liberal recommendations (vs. high-and-stringent recommendations) caused participants to adopt the mindset that their physical activity was more adequate, which in turn predicted greater engagement in physical activity and perceived health one week later. Study 2 (N = 272) showed that regardless of definition of physical activity (liberal vs. stringent), a lower (vs. higher) amount of recommended physical activity led participants to adopt the mindset that their activity was more adequate. This more adaptive mindset predicted greater self-efficacy and engagement in physical activity in the following week, in addition to better perceived health. Rather than inducing complacency, recommendations prescribing a relatively lower (vs. higher) amount of physical activity may be more effective at promoting physical activity and health by inducing adaptive mindsets.