Encouraging Health Behaviour Change — Creating Health Habits Series post #1

Submitted by guest blogger Amber Johnston,
School of Kinesiology

There are several things that one has learned from the last three years navigating through a pandemic. At the forefront is the importance of our health and wellbeing.  We can determine our health in many ways — where positive, successful behaviour change influencing our decision making has the most potential for impacting health outcomes. Those day-to-day habits we engage in, ones we may want to change, ones that we have already worked hard to change, and others that have become a habit that we wish hadn’t. Behaviour change is necessary not only for a successful wellness program, but to achieve overall well-being. You may be reading this and thinking to yourself: “I already know that,” or “I already do that.” However, when we really sit down to assess our health and wellness there is always room for improvement.

Have you ever heard the saying ‘food is the most abused anxiety drug and exercise is the most underutilized antidepressant”? Roughly 70-90% of cardiovascular related disease, cancers, and metabolic disorders such as type II diabetes are directly influenced by our food choices, our level of physical activity, and use of tobacco. Nine in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Only one in two Canadian adults meets the recommended target of daily physical activity. One in 3 Canadians are affected by a mental illness in their lifetime. Mental health is at a critical point, with increased reports of depression, anxiety, loneliness, stress and worry — people are exhausted and overwhelmed.  People are at different stages in their approach and behaviours to health and wellness, and this will always be a fluctuating metric.

With the stress and toll of the pandemic on both mental and physical wellbeing these last couple of years — a back-to-basics and perhaps motivational restart may be necessary. Research has found an inverse relationship between the risk of all-cause mortality and the number of healthy lifestyle behaviours one follows.

There are six dimensions to health and wellness – emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Within these dimensions we become more aware of the interconnectedness of each dimension and how they contribute to our daily life. Creating health behaviours is an active process where we increase our awareness and make choices that determine our behaviours within each of these dimensions while building a sense of well being and fulfillment. Small changes in our health behaviours and habits are critical in improving our health, reducing the risk and prevalence of chronic disease, and reducing health-related costs. It seems so simple, yet when it comes to behaviour change, adopting lifestyle changes and adhering to them is much more complex. Research shows that up to 40% of people do not adhere to physicians’ advice on lifestyle change, and that number rises to 70% when the advice requires significant lifestyle modification or complex behaviour change.

So, what is the solution? It seems straight forward. We need to be more informed. We need to make modifications to our behaviours. We need to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We need to create a work/life balance.  But first and foremost, we need to understand the root cause of our behaviours. Once we know what is propelling our behavior it may be simpler to make small changes — adding more physical activity into your day, practising new methods for stress reduction, or taking a medication. These small changes may then lead to a larger change — a complete lifestyle change — where motivation, environment, safety and adherence play a stronger role. We know that if we see behaviour change, we will see health improvements and improved quality of life. Time and repetition are essential in changing/developing these habits.

It can be difficult to know where and how to start. The goal of this health and wellness blog series is to provide some insight into this — to educate ourselves on how to employ behavioural change models, to determine where you fit in these models, and which suits you best with your value and beliefs, and to help support and engage employees to make positive steps in improving their health. A survey has been circulated to learn about our current behaviours here at UFV and to provide a platform to provide more information, tools, and resources to support behaviour change. This will help inform employee health programming in the workplace to have continued programming that is aimed at improving general health and wellness while promoting workplace wellness and occupational safety. In this blog series we will dive into a variety of topics — understanding theories of behaviour change, living a healthy life with chronic disease, cardiovascular risk assessment and risk factor reduction, mental health and coping strategies; all while gathering a stronger understanding of our connectedness with the six dimensions of health and wellness. From this, new employee initiatives and challenges can be developed to support employees and build a collective campus culture of well-being.

The process of behaviour change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them. — James Clear

Complete the health behaviour survey here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WN2RW7H by the deadline of May 20, 2022 for your chance to win an amazing prize — a $250 credit to a health initiative of your choice.