When working with a personal training client, do you often espouse the many benefits of adopting healthy habits? According to a recent study, this may not be the best way of inspiring behavior change. The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health (2011; 101[4], 751–58), included information from 358 reports and 99,011 individuals. The goal of the report was to summarize best-practice interventions for increasing physical activity among apparently healthy adults. According to the data, face-to-face, individually targeted programs that focused on how to improve activity levels were most successful. The researchers discovered that cognitive interventions—those that focused on why exercise is important—did not fare as well. Other less successful programs were community-based, and they used communication methods such as mail or telephone.

“The focus needs to shift from increasing knowledge about the benefits of exercise to discussing strategies to change behaviors and increase activity levels,” stated lead study author Vicki Conn, associate dean for research and a professor at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing. “The common approach is to try and change people’s attitudes or beliefs about exercise and why it’s important, but that information isn’t motivating. We can’t ‘think’ ourselves into being more active.”