Behavioral researcher R.J. Shepard states that motivation to make change is impacted by:

·        attitudes towards behavior,

·         perceived “norms” for behavior,

·        belief that friends, family, co-workers, etc.) think he should or shouldn’t perform behavior,

·         motivation to comply (or not comply) with perceived wishes,

·         belief that change is positive,

·         belief that action taken will result in desired change.

For example, most 40+ individuals consider regular physical activity as a positive aspiration (even it they don’t actually do it!). However, for many 65+ individuals, sedentary behavior my be the perceived norm and considered an earned right. To understand this perception, take into account common attitudes and beliefs they may have developed about physical activity (exercise) throughout their lifetime.

For the 65+ demographic physical activity was largely associated with hard work and “voluntary” exercise may have been considered a frivolous use of time for men, and unladylike or even harmful for women. In addition, during the Industrial Revolution avoiding physical exertion by purchasing labor saving devices and/or hiring others to do physical work represented financial success. After spending a good portion of their adult lives trying to reduce the demands of physical work, it is not surprising that many 65+ adults now shun physical activity.

Existing wellness “environments” both at work and home also have an impact on motivation. For example, does standing up from the computer to stretch and move bring stares or others joining in? If someone chooses to walk/jog at lunch do they receive reinforcement or subtle resentment from co-workers? In a senior housing community does an individual stopped in the hallway to participate in an exercise station feel foolish and conspicuous, or believe that his behavior is in line with perceived norms?

In essence, verbal and non-verbal messages of family, co-workers and friends send strong signals about the importance of and perceived wishes and norms for physical activity behavior.  Some individuals will desire to comply with the perceived wishes of others, some will be motivated to do just the opposite; either way it’s a strong dynamic impacting change.  What’s your wellness environment?

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