Becoming Physically Active: A Health Behavior Modification Project

Exercise or physical activity, is perhaps the most popular form of health behavior, its benefits well-documented. It is viewed of the utmost importance not only to personal health but to community health as well, ranking second to tobacco use as the risk factor for ill health.

Physical activity reins in several benefits, including halving the risk of coronary heart disease, colon cancer; lowering risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, blood pressure; improving lipid profile and mental health (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000).

There is hype about physical fitness or exercise in this generation. Infomercials, advertisements in print, media images promote healthy and active living as key not only to good health but personal happiness.

Exercise is a wellness behavior that is being practiced in order to prevent or avoid illness. For the lack of an actual and direct threat addressed by it, people have difficulty sticking to or adhering to this particular type of health behavior. Statistics suggest that approximately half of individuals who start a self-monitored exercise program drop out of that program within six months (Dishman, 1988).

In my experience, this is true. Premises considered, the chosen health behavior to be modified for this project is physical activity, in order to maintain good health, achieve relaxation and lower stress levels that may be consequence of sedentariness. With the use of various learning theories, a behavior modification plan was formulated, implemented and evaluated thereafter.

Current Health Status and Health Behaviors

Before formulating a behavior modification plan, I made an assessment of past and current health behaviors and identified barriers and factors that would influence the outcome of this project. Based on my body mass index (BMI) of 21.0, I have a body weight (130 lbs.) normal for my height (5’6”).

I have not had any history of serious illness in the past and think I am fairly healthy. However, at present, I have a sedentary to moderately active lifestyle. When I am not at the university, or at my part-time job, I am usually home watching television, eating, surfing the Internet or chatting online.

It has been almost one year since I stopped my usual jogging exercises, and I have noticed tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath and weight gain. Since I stopped exercising, I have also noticed increased susceptibility to cold, cough and flu. Despite my inactive lifestyle, I have a habit of taking issues about health and disease very seriously.

Many of my relatives succumbed to diabetes mellitus, cardiac arrest and stroke at relatively young age (40s and 50s), and the prospect of death at a young age has always been a real one for me.

This has been a great factor in pushing me to maintain wellness behaviors such as exercising. I have had the motivation and opportunity to exercise in the past, but I find difficulty adhering to an exercise regimen mainly because of social and environmental factors that hinder my desire to adopt and maintain exercise behavior.

First, I have a relatively inactive family that is not inclined to physical activity. No one in my family is interested in sports or in any physical activity for that matter. There is a rather apathetic attitude and a “couch potato” mentality at home that douses my motivation to go out and exercise. Negative cues also prevent me from engaging in exercise behavior.

The event I do some exercises at home or at the recreation center, a family member would comment that exercise would not “change the way I look”, or change the fact that “I’ll eventually die sometime”. Secondly, I am driven by a need for social support in order to get motivated, primarily, through an exercise buddy  or partner.

In the past, I jogged with the help of my best friend, Jenny, but when she moved away, I found the process tedious – the distance seemed longer and the activities more tiring, so I stopped.

Finally, I always feel I do not have the time to exercise, or when I have time, something more convenient and effortless like a good movie or a date usually distracts me. In this particular project, I resolved to use various learning and behavior theories to help me become physically active, with my main motivation as preventing future illness, reducing stress and developing a positive, healthy outlook in life.

The Behavior Modification Plan

With the help of learning theories and research on exercise behavior studies, I formulated a personal behavior modification program that was implemented for a period of ten (10) days, from July 15 to July 24. The program consisted of a repetitive exercise regimen that aimed to increase upper and lower body strength and increase fitness level.

I considered the different barriers that would prevent me from achieving my desired outcomes – lack of a support system and failure to retain motivation – and drew up an exercise plan using reinforcement, punishment and stimulus control that would be feasible given the time constraints and my physical limitations.

The goal was to gradually increase the minutes of exercise time every day and to lower my resting heart rate. Resting heart rate (Resting HR), or the number of beats in one minute when you are at complete rest, is a gauge to measure basic fitness level. The lower the Resting HR, the more well-conditioned the body is (British Medical Journal, 2009).

The exercise plan consisted of alternating physical activities every day starting 7:30 a.m. for at least 30 minutes within a ten-day period. All of the exercises were done together with a friend of mine, Trevor, who agreed to be my partner. I applied the principle of reinforcement in order to achieve my desired health behavior.

Positive reinforcements considered were mainly in the long-term and in anticipation of future extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards such as the physical benefits of a healthy body – reduced stress levels, better appearance, better performance at work and school, as well as lower risk for illness – were considered. Intrinsic rewards such as sense of accomplishment, self-control and self-efficacy were also anticipated as motivating factors to pursue this project.

To control my surroundings and negative stimuli, I put up fitness posters and motivational messages on my desktop to deter any negative cues from any member of my family. In order to keep myself motivated and reminded of rewards of physical fitness, I studied several health journals online and reviewed news articles on the benefits of physical activity and exercise.

The plan also attached a punishment for failure to perform the scheduled exercise for the day, which was to exercise for another 30 minutes for every day missed. In order to evaluate progress, I developed a diary which highlighted the days, time, duration and type of exercises that were done. Outcome measures for this behavior modification plan were (a) minutes spent exercising every day and; (b) resting heart rate every morning.