A Fitbit, Lululemon tights and a brand spanking pair of fluorescent Nike Free Runs. Yes, you’re looking like wealth and boy are you motivated to exercise. Excellent!
Fast forward a week and your Free Runs are losing their lustre, your Fitbit sits on your bedside table judging you silently as only an inanimate/relatively inanimate object could, and the only exercise your Lululemons get is the walk from your home to the local coffee shop. We’ve all experienced this before, or some sort of variation on this. So what are the scientifically proven ways to get healthy? More Lululemon? Probably not.
Physical health strategies:
Gym memberships, personal trainers and dieticians:
The data is limited regarding the effects of having a gym membership on exercise performed. Although, it is a well known fact that gyms make a lot of money from people not using their memberships! In fact, a review study found that personal contact with a fitness professional made no difference to weight loss levels (1). Additionally, contact with a dietician led to average weight loss of 1.5kg 12 months after this contact (2). Okay, but not excellent.
Now this isn’t a stab at dieticians or personal trainers – both are fantastic, essential professions. But simply going through the motions of: these are the exercises you need to do, this is the food you need to eat isn’t enough to improve health and change behaviour dramatically.
Commercial weight-loss, health and nutrition products:
Can you rely on your old friend Jenny? Oh and what about Michelle Bridges and her 12-week body challenge? Well you can, to a degree. Ms. Craig and her competitors helped people lose on average 4-5% more weight than people receiving a control intervention. Again this isn’t massive weight loss, but better than nothing (3). It’s unlikely these programs will lead to long-term change – once Jenny stops bringing her box, the changes will stop!
Receiving money to exercise, eat healthy or lose weight is all the rage at the moment and despite widespread criticism, it works! A review that pooled the data of 34 different studies found that receiving financial incentives for exercising or eating well improved performance of these behaviours – these people were 50% more likely to achieve a health related goal. Withholding money from someone for not engaging in healthy behaviours looks even more effective – doubling the chance of achieving health related goals! The only issue is that once the financial incentive is removed the person is only likely to continue these behaviours for another three months (4).
What about the other hot trend at the moment, health coaching? Health coaching is the process by which a coach motivates you using behavioural change techniques and strategies. It’s like a personal trainer for the motivation centre of your brain. A review study found the behaviour change theories used by health coaches increases physical activity by a moderate amount, but it doesn’t particularly matter which of the theories the health coach uses (5). In another study, higher motivation and self-efficacy (one’s confidence in their ability to do something) emerged as the best predictor of beneficial weight and physical activity outcomes. These are key factors that health coaches work on (6). So all in all, health coaching is pretty darn good.
Is it healthful?
Physical health strategies: Personal training, a visit to the dieticians, or even a visit from Jenny will likely help you improve your health modestly, if no motivational techniques are used.
Our verdict: Slightly healthful.
Motivational strategies: Being paid to be healthy or losing money for being unhealthy helps improve health behaviours, as does having someone motivating you to better your health.
Our verdict: moderately healthful.
Combined physical health and motivational strategies: It’s logic the two combined will lead to better results than either in isolation. Personal trainers and dieticians will give you the skills necessary to eat healthily and exercise appropriately. Health coaches, or financial incentives can give you the motivation to perform these healthy behaviours.
Our verdict: Very healthful.
I hope this has been healthful.