Fitness apps that emphasise death-related messaging are more effective in getting people physically active, according to new research.
The finding comes from a study that looked at five types of messaging used to get people to exercise at home.
In order to uncover the effectiveness of the messaging, participants were asked to indicate how persuasive each was in terms of motivating them to work out. Researchers also examined the connection between the messaging and social-cognitive beliefs such as self-regulation (goal setting), self-efficacy and outcome expectation. They also investigated the role played by gender.
Results showed that apps and platforms which highlighted the dangers of inactivity to health – including early death – were much more effective motivators when compared to those that focused on social stigma, obesity, or financial cost.
The results were unexpected, as previous studies on the effectiveness of messaging that aims to change human behaviour – especially on smoking cessation and risky sexual behaviour – actually found the opposite: that messages related to mortality could actually be a barrier to acknowledging health risks.
The study, authored by Kiemute Oyibo from the School of Public Health Sciences at University of Waterloo, Canada – found this to be entirely different for fitness.
“I didn’t expect only illness- and death-related messages to be so significant and motivational,” Oyibo said.
“And not only were illness- and death-related messages motivational, they also had a significant relationship with self-regulatory belief and outcome expectation, and there was also no significant difference between the sexes.”
Oyibo said he had expected obesity-related messages – such as “one-in-four Canadians has clinical obesity” – to be motivational and have a significant relationship with self-regulatory belief, given that obesity is one of the leading causes of mortality globally, but people studied were not able to make the conceptual leap between obesity being a cause of mortality and their own death and needed to have this pointed out to them in more direct terms.
“This study is important because it helps fitness professionals – and especially designers of health apps – understand the types of messages that individuals, regardless of gender, are likely to be motivated by in persuasive health communication and that are likely to influence individuals’ social-cognitive beliefs about exercise,” Oyibo said.
He said future studies should consider other demographic characteristics besides gender, such as age, culture, race and education, to uncover the role they play in persuasive health communication.
The study, called The Relationship between Perceived Health Message Motivation and Social Cognitive Beliefs in Persuasive Health Communication was published in the journal MDPI.
• To read the study in full, go to www.HCMmag.com/messagemotivation