Having Trouble Staying Active? Try Increasing Your Psychological Well-Being First

We know exercise is good for our health yet most of us struggle to exercise regularly, especially as we get older. A recent paper published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine suggests that increasing your psychological well-being may lead to increases in physical activity, even later in adulthood. Psychological well-being includes positive feelings, distress, life satisfaction, optimism, and purpose in life.

In this longitudinal study, researchers investigated if higher psychological well-being increases the likelihood of meeting recommended physical activity levels, defined as 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise a week by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Almost 10,000 older adults (>50 years old) were followed and surveyed every 2 years for 11 years. Longitudinal studies gather data from the same individuals over a period of time and are strong designs because it allows researchers to follow change over time. Researchers measured psychological well-being, which included questions about distress, control, autonomy, pleasure and self-realization. Participants also completed measures of frequency and intensity of their physical activity.

The researchers found that higher psychological well-being was with higher physical activity over the period of 11 years. They also found that among those who were initially inactive, those with higher psychological well-being were more likely to start regular physical activity. In addition, researchers statistically controlled for the influence of other variables, such as health status and psychological distress, to rule out the possibility that it was these other variables influencing the results.

The findings suggest that higher levels of psychological well-being predict future increases in physical activity. Therefore, psychological well-being may be a potential target for intervention. Evidence from various studies suggests that some ways to increase psychological well-being include writing exercises about positive life events and best possible future outcomes, as well as exercises to enhance positive emotions and personal values.

Kim, E. S., Kubzansky, L. D., Soo, J., & Boehm, J. K. (2017). Maintaining healthy behavior: A prospective study of psychological well-being and physical activity. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51, 337-347.

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