What are health promoting behaviours & how to make them work for you?

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What are Health Promoting Behaviours?

As we continue to shift our understanding of health, we are moving towards a proactive approach when it comes to our health, embracing many forms of care. Therefore, it’s even more essential to know the variety of factors which influence our wellness. Health promoting behaviours are actions that we take that empower us to have more control over our health and reduce onset of lifestyle disease (1). Simply put, we are becoming more responsible about looking after ourselves.

Here’s a healthy reminder of how the literature has defined health promoting behaviours. They’ve been divided into six groups: nutrition, physical activity, stress management, health responsibility, interpersonal relationships and spiritual growth (2).

Looking after our wellbeing is no longer about making one change. As fascinating and complicated as the body is, looking after the vessel we live in involves more that starting a diet or hitting the gym. It involves taking a 360 view of a person’s life and making small changes in those six areas we defined above, and this can often feel confusing at best, and overwhelming at worst.

How do you make them work for you?

As you ponder how you’d like to be more responsible with your own health this month, we would like to stretch you beyond just telling you what you could do with food intake, exercise, and stress reduction. We are encouraging you to begin the process of managing your mind and start at the very root of how to make your health promoting behaviours work for you.

Here are 3 things to watch for which may be keeping you stuck repeating the same old unhelpful patterns of behaviour:

1. WE DON’T WANT TO ADMIT THE PROBLEM.

In theory it is assumed that people will takeup health promoting behaviours when they perceive a serious threat or problem (3). Surprisingly this hasn’t always transpired in the real world. We struggle with the chronic pain because we are afraid of what we must do to change. Or we skip the breast check because we fear the outcome of the result.

There are many reasons why we do this, and thankfully we have come up with ways to counteract this resistance to acceptance of an issue. As we become more aware of how our thoughts work, we can begin to start reframing perceived threats as opportunities. I am reminded of one person’s perspective on their psoriasis. When she experienced a flare up, rather than struggle with the condition, she saw it as a reminder that she needed to slow down and mind herself.

 

2. WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH KNOWLEDGE.

I know you are thinking – ‘but how can you say there isn’t enough information on this?’. The key is that information is not knowledge.

The implication is that information remains just that if we cannot connect with it. As Einstein said, it’s the experience that gives the wisdom. And how often do we slow down enough, to consider the experience enough to take the learning?

Let’s take the example of a diet – we try it, we fall off the wagon and we berate ourselves for being a failure. Can one truly say that they stop and reflect to see if it worked? I suspect not, as that’s challenging for our minds. And the next time they diet, does anyone truly believe they will succeed? Aside from the fact that physiologically your body doesn’t support dieting and your subconscious mind also doesn’t support it, the feelings of failure remain. The trick to sustaining health promoting behaviours is committing to the belief that you can stay doing the small tasks for as long as it takes so you get your reward.

 

3. WE DON’T LAST THE PACE.

There are a whole host of reasons why the thought of a lifestyle change starts our tummies churning. It’s hard to motivate ourselves to do the same boring things day in day out. Or perhaps we don’t notice a physical improvement fast enough or maybe we don’t have enough support.

However, there’s one particular reason that I want to draw your attention to today. It’s when you attempt to change long-term, you will experience lapses in behaviour. We are hard wired to old habits, whether they are good for us or not. And it’s our response to these lapses that is hindering our success. Studies have shown that in stimulating your mind, you are more likely to sustain long term behaviour change (4). What that means in layman’s terms is that if you start entering the thoughts every day in your mind that you are living a healthy lifestyle, you act like it’s already happening. A simple strategy!


What can you do as an Employer to support?

If you are an employer reading this and want to encourage healthy behaviours in your workplace, the first step is to bring awareness of positive health behaviours to your organisation. We covered some ways you can do this, in greater detail in an earlier blog, How you can encourage healthy eating in your workplace.


In Conclusion

Engaging in health-promoting behaviors enables us to work towards enhancing our wellness so that we can make realistic, long-lasting changes that feel right to us. It’s so important to mention that life is different at different stages so the amount of energy a person can invest in themselves will be reflective of those stages. It is key to acknowledge that one’s ability to look after their health is dependent on so many factors like national health policy, media influence, where you live, what you earn, what education you have had and your support network.

When you are acknowledging the limits that you might be experiencing right now, you are far more likely to believe in yourself. When you embrace health promoting behaviours because you want to, and you feel you have a choice, you are far more likely to succeed.

References:

  1. Sanaati, F., Geranmayeh, M., Behboodi Moghadam, Z. et al. A population-based study of health-promoting behaviors and their predictors in Iranian males, 2019. Arch Public Health 79, 23 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13690-021-00543-1
  2. Pender, N.J., 2011. Health promotion model manual.
  3. Olson, J.M., 1992. Psychological Barriers to Behavior Change: How to indentify the barriers that inhibit change. Canadian Family Physician, 38, p.309.
  4. Sherman, R.T. and Anderson, C.A., 1987. Decreasing premature termination from psychotherapy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 5(3), pp.298-312.