Focusing on the Solution - Increasing Physical Activity Levels of Patients and Clients

I challenge you to take a critical look at how you interact with your patients and clients, specifically when it comes to health promotion and healthy behaviour change. Do you find yourself describing the issues and problems? Or do you focus on solutions?

As health promoters, we need to shift our focus towards ‘user-friendly’, meaningful solutions, and away from just describing the problems our clients and patients face.

There is a sedentary lifestyle epidemic among the population – people need to get more active!  During each and every presentation I do on the topic I see the same response – lots of head nodding and agreements; in fact the same head nods and agreements you may be doing now.

So what can we do about it?

How do we switch gears from describing the problem and start to hone in on meaningful solutions?

Recently, I began reflecting on my own practice: whether I have been describing the problem, or discussing realistic, meaningful solutions with patients, groups and clients.

It started with a few questions:

  • What am I trying to do?  Increase physical activity and exercise levels.
  • Why?  Because of the vast benefits in health, wellness and quality of life.
  • How do I achieve this? This answer isn’t quite so simple. How do I get clients and patients to change their behaviour?

The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ are well-established parts of research, every day practices, and policy. The ‘What and Why’ are also the parts of my presentation that get all of the easy head-nods and agreements. 

The Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (OCPDA) recently released a useful report and accompanying tools to summarize the ‘What and Why’: Determining Quality Chronic Disease Prevention Indicators for Ontario.  There are infographics that can be used as a starting point to conversations and presentations for increasing physical activity and exercise levels!

They are very simple and effective tools to present the ‘What’ – increasing physical activity levels and the ‘Why’ – because of the vast health and wellness benefits! This tool is great because it allows more time to be spent on the most important piece: the ‘How’. The ‘How’ is of course more complex as it is different for everyone; it is the most meaningful part of the conversation.

So to cover the complexities and individuality of the ‘How’ I’ve begun to pose a few simple questions to groups and clients that will get them thinking about meaningful solutions:

  • What do you like to do?
  • What have you done in the past?
  • What are you good at?
  • What types of activities are convenient for you?
  • What activities can you see yourself doing?

These questions might not produce immediate results in physical activity levels, but they can definitely lead the conversation toward a meaningful, individualized ‘How’ solution.

These questions hone in on physical activities that are ‘user-friendly’ to the individual. It helps them reflect on their current lifestyle and create their own solutions, empowering themselves toward a solution: increased physical activity and exercise levels.

 ‘User-friendly’ physical activities that emerge from the ‘How’ questions are a great starting point towards healthy behaviour change. Then we can start to try new things. But we have to start somewhere simple, somewhere meaningful, and somewhere personalized to the individual.

It all starts with switching focuses from the ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of the problem and changing to the ‘How’ solutions!