Is it a good idea to tell people they will be harmed from not exericsing?

There is an interesting debate going on about whether focusing on the many negatives of physical inactivity is a good or bad idea.

In The Lancet July (2012) Chi Pang Wen and Xifeng Wu advocated that there be a large-scale effort to get more people active by “stressing harms of physical inactivity.”

A body of research has investigated whether creating messages that frame physical activity to emphasize what is gained is better or worse than messages emphasizing what can be lost by not moving.  In fact, a recent meta-analysis of the research on this showed that “gain-framed” messages for physical activity are more persuasive than “loss-framed” ones.

Amy Latimar, a research leader who I greatly admire, co-authored a response to the July Lancet piece emphasizing that focusing on the harm of being inactive flies in the face of what science has shown.  Their response is here.

In addition to the gain vs. loss framed literature, research on self-determination theory would suggest that contexts that support our need to feel autonomous, competent, and related would better foster the high-quality motivation necessary to maintain physical activity over time. (If you want to learn more, I recently wrote a three-part series on this issue here.)

From a sustainable behavior and human flourishing perspective, helping individuals link being physically active to the what they most care about achieving everyday would have better results than communicating about what they will lose if they remain inactive. Why? Because people have to feel deeply investigated about something in order to keep it up in today’s hectic life.

Others might argue that we should stop talking about this issue and that people should just “step up to the plate” and take responsibility for their behavior, and the potentially large costs their unhealthy behavior is enacting on society.  They should “just do it!”

What do you think about this question? Which way of promoting physical movement do you think we should be doing?

Framing research, Motivation, Population Level Physical Activity Participation