Physical Activity Triggers Other Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors

By Dr. Cother Hajat
Running outside in winter to trigger other healthy lifestyle behaviors - Vitality

The benefits of physical activity are wide-ranging. Vitality has long known that the benefits of exercise include weight management and prevention of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and others. More recently benefits have been shown that are preventive for bone, mental and cognitive health. Furthermore, our new study, published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, suggests that lifestyle behavior changes may be “triggered” by initiation of physical activity by Vitality members. 

In this observational, longitudinal study, we compared more than 34,000 participants’ verified and self-reported health behaviors prior to and following their first verified engagement in physical activity between the three-year period from 2014 to 2017. 

We found that physical activity initiation was followed by significant improvements in fruit and vegetable intake from 2.7 to 2.9 servings; Kessler Stress Scores (a measure of anxiety and depression) from 17.4 to 17.0; sedentary hours from 11.3 to 10.8; alcohol consumption from 1.8 to 1.6 weekly units and overall health scores. In addition, there was improvement in sleep from 7.1 to 7.2 hours per night. 

In summary, physical activity may trigger other healthy lifestyle behaviors and our study suggests that there is considerable synergy between different healthy lifestyle behaviors. 

Programs that offer physical activity as an intervention, such as workplace initiatives, are usually restricted to single interventions. Even when multi-behavior interventions, such as diet and exercise, are offered, the components may be evaluated separately. Our study suggests that multi-behavior programs may benefit from the synergy between different healthy lifestyle behaviors. This analysis provides health and wellness providers with insights into how to best leverage physical activity to improve well-being at scale. 

We have previously reported on the common pattern of weight gain for individuals over the holiday period. The study showed that in Vitality members, two-thirds of year-on-year weight gain occurred during the holiday season. While there was some weight loss after January, it did not revert to pre-holiday levels. Parties and social dining are partly responsible but are part and parcel of the festive period. However, unhealthy grocery purchases were also 40% higher in December compared with the rest of the year. 

In the run up to the holiday season, it is an important consideration that maintaining an exercise schedule may also help with maintaining a healthy diet.


Dr. Cother Hajat

Public Health Advisor

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