Right messenger can prompt people to exercise: study

July 1st, 2008 - 4:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 1 (IANS) Most of us don’t take any notice when we are told that exercising is healthy and one way of reducing weight and obesity. But a new study shows that the message will be really effective only when the audience identifies with its deliverer, someone it respects.

The study was prompted by Australia becoming the fattest country on earth — with four million classified as obese and another 5.4 million as overweight.

The study, by Victoria University’s Erin Pearson, shows that when it comes to changing people’s exercise behaviour, having the right messenger is as important as having the right message.

The study investigated strategies designed to get sedentary women exercising and found that interventions based on women’s social identities were far more likely to be effective.

From a pool of 214 female volunteers, Pearson identified two groups whose social identities were based on the personality-based self-characteristics — the “strong” and “independent” group and the “spiritual” and caring” group.

A third control group was randomly selected. Women in all groups were aged 25 to 45.

Before introducing the interventions, Pearson recorded the women’s rate of exercise. The average time spent exercising per week was 88 minutes for the “strong independent” group, 109 minutes for the “spiritual caring” group, and 128 minutes for the randomly selected group.

For the “social identity” groups, the intervention consisted of watching video footage of similar women, either “strong independent” or “spiritual caring”, talking about the importance of regular physical exercise.

The control group was played footage about the importance of physical activity presented by health professionals and were asked to focus on the importance of exercise for them as individuals.

Neither the message nor the messengers were chosen to appeal to these women’s social identities.

After two weeks, Pearson again evaluated the women’s rate of exercise and all of the groups showed a significant increase.

The ’strong independent’ women were now doing 239 minutes, the ’spiritual caring’ women 166 minutes, and the randomly selected group averaged 220 minutes per week.

However, at the final evaluation after three months only the women in the two social identity groups were found to have maintained the increased levels of exercise.

On average the ’strong independent’ women were doing 264 minutes per week and the ’spiritual caring’ women recorded an average of 170 minutes.

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