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National Fitness Day: A Shop Window Toward Physical Activity?

26 September 2018 | by Guest

For today's guest post please welcome Dr Mark Uphill, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University.

In the build-up to #fitnessday Professor Greg Whyte described it as a “shop window of what we should be doing every day of the year”.

The sentiment expressed in ukactive’s twitter stream is one that I largely echo and have discussed the psychological challenges of engaging in physical activity here.

In the spirit of debate and encouraging physical activity however, I thought it interesting to play with the idea of a “shop window”.

I’ll get this out the way now – I’m not really a big fan of shopping, but I wonder how many shop windows we pass without really looking in?

What I’m trying to convey here is that our tendency to be “inquisitive” is related to our state of readiness for change. Feeling that the leather on my shoes is getting a bit thin when walking on some stony ground, may prompt me to look inside a shoe shop for example, perhaps even try a pair on.

But while individuals who are contemplating undertaking some sort of physical activity may find that National Fitness Day the perfect excuse to "get them into the store", it may not necessarily have the same effect on those who feel no need to change their shoes!

When I look in the window what do I see? A quick search on the National Fitness Day website illustrates that there are 6 free events within 5 miles of the postcode where I live.

Of the events that are available within fairly close proximity, one I simply cannot make because of child-care commitments. Thus the “merchandise” that is available to those looking in the shop window may be more or less restrictive based on individual circumstances, ability to travel, and in general “resources” available to the person.

When I venture further inside the shop, perhaps I see something that I like, but it’s not available in my size. Alternatively, the shop window may provide a glimpse of merchandise that I’d not known existed before, and potentially quite like to try on!

Having looked in the shop window we may be inclined to make a purchase, or leave with a sense of disappointment that what’s on offer really isn’t a good fit (at this time, in these circumstances).

To continue with the shop window analogy, I wonder if this window is located somewhere that’s relatively visible to all (e.g., high street chain), or may be largely inaccessible to many (e.g., Harrods).

The “sales message” on the shop front may convey all the advantages associated with engaging in physical activity but I wonder if for some it might serve to reinforce rather than break down the social inequalities that presently influence engagement in physical activity

Finally, as I alluded to at the start of this piece. I probably would benefit on occasion from being “nudged” in the direction of the shop window.

Nudging (physical activity) behaviours has been described as a kind of “libertarian paternalism” (Sunstein, 2014) in which behavioural science can help direct people towards better choices.

There is an important distinction made here by Van De Veer (1986) in which a policy is paternalistic if it tries influence choices in a way that make choosers better off as judged by themselves, rather than interpreting “better off” in terms that may be measured as objectively as possible perhaps by some external (government?) unit.

The perception that “you’ll look better in those shoes” is really not so much an incentive for me, as wearing a pair of shoes that are comfortable and “fit for purpose”.

On this latter note, can we do better at evaluating the impact of the shop window on people’s behaviour in the days/weeks/months after. For now, I’m off to buy a pair of shoes

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