Rebranding Exercise: 'Quality of Life' Trumps 'Live Longer'

Adult female exercisers respond better to messages that emphasize immediate quality of life benefits over living longer. So say researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Women and Gender. While it has long been presumed that promoting the health and longevity benefits of working out are the primary motivators in getting people to exercise, a new study suggests that is not always the case.

"The study showed that what an individual espouses as important does not necessarily translate into behavior," says Michelle Segar, research investigator for the institute. "While people say they value health and healthy aging, those distant benefits don't make exercise compelling enough to fit into their busy lives. Promoting exercise for health is logical, but people's daily decisions are more often connected to emotion than logic. A more effective 'hook' is to rebrand exercise to emphasize the immediate benefits that enrich daily living, such as stress reduction and increased vitality."

Individuals may also appreciate the subsequent benefits that make exercise more personally meaningful, such as being a patient parent, enhancing creativity and having greater focus at work, Segar adds. "By shifting our model from medicine to marketing, we can improve how we 'sell' exercise to the public by using principles like branding," she says. For example, messages about immediate rewards from exercise that make life more enjoyable, such as "move more, get energy," may better motivate busy individuals than promotions focused on achieving distant and abstract benefits, such as "move more, get healthy."

Segar and her research team studied responses from 226 women between the ages of 40 and 60 who worked full time and completed three surveys during a one-year period. Respondents were asked about their exercise goals and participation, body mass index and social support. The complete findings appear in the current issue of The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Segar recommends four steps to rebranding exercise and improving engagement and participation:1) Assess the specific exercise benefits your organization has been promoting.2) Evaluate the effectiveness of these motives to engage and motivate ongoing participation.3) Ask your target population what values and experiences they most care about achieving in their daily life via exercising, such as reduced stress and improved mood.4) Develop new messaging that addresses those values.

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