Penn State logoUnderstanding attitudes towards mundane physical activities may lead to a healthier, more active lifestyle, states a research conducted at Penn State. The team noticed that certain unintentional physical activities maybe characterized by unconscious attitudes. The task of encouraging higher activity can be accomplished by understanding the motivation behind the deliberate and inherent behaviors.

The efforts to accelerate physical activity are in focus of public health research as the benefits of a healthy lifestyle appear to surpass physical and mental well-being. Nevertheless, these efforts concentrate more on the explicit motive i.e. external factors that may cause a change in behavior. Explicit motivation may comprise of adhering to a 150 minute workout prescribed by the US Department of Health and Human Services or chalking out a weight-loss program with an accomplice.

If one is not in the habit of performing physical activities, there are chances of running out of energy trying to force one into doing it everyday suggests David Conroy, associate professor of kinesiology and human development and family studies. The researcher goes on to say that if one can make physical activities a part of one’s routine, it helps remain active a lot easier.

Despite all this, explicit motivational processes seem unsuccessful in causing positive changes that people can easily maintain on a long-term basis. Conroy, along with Shawna Doerksen, assistant professor of recreation, park and tourism management and other colleagues examined around 200 college students to understand the connection between physical activities and level of unintentional activities.

Conroy elaborated on the examining of the students by saying that, “It wasn’t the overall level of activity we focused on, it was specifically the unintentional activity — those little things that you don’t even think about that help you burn those extra few calories.”

The results garnered from the research indicate a positive relation between individuals with a positive attitude towards physical activity and those who performed unintentional activities like climbing stairs or parking at the first spot available rather than spending time looking for a closer space.

The team measured the student’s unexpressed attitudes directed towards exercise through a common psychological test that makes use of words, pictures to elicit an automatic response from the individual. This computer-operated test required categorization of stimulus with words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’, which in this case would be applied to physical activity. The faster individuals associate a pairing as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, those memories hold a strong position in their mind.

Researchers also made use of questionnaires to find the amount of physical activity the students anticipated they would get during the week. The quantity varied depending on how active were the students in their peer group or the results they expected from the physical activity.

Conroy and his team attached a pedometer to each student to calculate the total activity experienced by the student in a week. The amount of unintentional activity can be predicted by adjusting the total activity scores to account for people’s intentions to be active.

The researchers are now trying to follow this research by considering a wider population. The motivating factors for young adults may differ from the factors motivating mid-life adults. The same can stand true for older adults who may have physical limitations as well. The team is also currently trying to understand whether there are ways in which a person can be made to work physically, without letting them know about it.

This research was published in the April issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.