Introduction to health behavior change

What is Health?

Health refers to a “complete state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organisation, 1948). The biopsychosocial model offers many determinants for health (and illness). This model adopts a holistic approach, with the biological, the psychological and the social aspects of a person all interacting together, resulting in a particular state of health. Ogden (2000) gave some of the following examples:
Ogden's biopsychosocial model

Is health the same as fitness?

Fitness is often confused with health. Fitness can be defined as the ability to meet the demands of a person’s environment or lifestyle. Everybody has different requirements depending on the nature of their occupation, personal circumstances and leisure/recreational activities, and therefore fitness requirements differ from person to person.

What are physical activity and exercise then?

Physical activity is a lifestyle behaviour and involves any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that cause increases in energy expenditure above basal levels. Physical activity can be performed at a variety of intensities and can include occupational, leisure and household activities. These activities are not necessarily carried out in order to improve health or expend energy, although this may result.

Exercise, on the other hand, is considered a subgroup of physical activity and can be defined as “any planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness” (ACSM, 2001). The intention of exercise is specifically to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.

Why should we bother to be physically active or exercise?

A few health benefits have been listed below:

  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • Improvements in everyday function, such as walking, stair climbing, shopping, running for the bus, etc, and increased stamina and reserve capacity to cope with any extra physical demands
  • Increased bone density in specific areas of skeleton placed under load – may prevent osteoporosis
  • Maintenance of muscle strength and joint flexibility
  • Helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis
  • Decreased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and other chronic degenerative conditions
  • Better control of blood pressure in cases of mild hypertension
  • Improved blood cholesterol profile
  • Reduction of body fat/maintenance of body fat levels within a healthy range, and hence reduced risk of obesity-related diseases
  • Management of non-insulin dependent diabetes
  • Alleviation of disability
  • Reduced stress and anxiety, enhanced mood and self-esteem
  • Participating in regular exercise appears to enhance the self-concepts of individuals. These improvements occur because individuals who exercise are better able to control their weight, maintain an attractive appearance, and engage successfully in various physical activities and sports – all of which help these people to feel a heightened sense of esteem and to receive the many social advantages that accrue with being fit
  • In addition to the above, there are other important social benefits that come from an improved quality of life. Physically active people are more likely to be able to live life to the full well into older age
  • An increasingly active society will have a major impact on reducing the economic and social costs caused by chronic ill-health or premature death and improve the quality of life for millions of people.
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