Making a positive behaviour change is hard. Trying to move more, sit less, or eat healthier can be a big change from one’s current lifestyle, so it’s important to find ways to maximize the chances you will be able to maintain the new behaviours.

Academic research can often help to illuminate some of the factors that are most important to focus on when trying to make a positive health behaviour change. For example, researchers from Australia, Germany, and Poland recently took a look at how two factors contributed to physical activity: Self-efficacy and friend support.

Self-efficacy is a little like self-confidence – the belief that one can succeed – but is limited to a very specific area. For example, an individual could have a strong belief (high self-efficacy) that they can eat healthier, but could have a lower self-efficacy for getting enough sleep. In this particular study, self-efficacy was determined by asking the respondents to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, “I am confident that I could do moderate-to-vigorous physical activity”.

Friend support is pretty much what is sounds like – in this study it included encouragement, praise, or participation by friends concerning physical activities.

The purpose of the study was straightforward: To see whether these two factors helped individuals to be more physical activity. It turned out that both of these factors were important predictors of people’s intentions to be more physically active, although self-efficacy was a stronger predictor than friend support.

Interestingly, in those who reported very high self-efficacy for being physically active, support from friends did not affect their physical activity levels at all. Even when an individual did not have any friends who supported them, a strong belief that they had the ability to be physically active was all that mattered. Conversely, in those who had a weaker belief in their ability to be physically active, support from friends was a way to make up for that weaker belief.

So what are the implications of this study if you are trying to become more physically active? Well, it appears as if your personal belief in your ability to be physically active is most important. If you have a high enough self-efficacy, the level of support around you matters much less. So how does one improve their self-efficacy?? We will be covering this in a future blog post!

Alternatively, if you are finding yourself not very confident in your ability to be consistently physically active, try to foster some support from your friends or family. This external support can help to compensate for lower self-support until you start to realize you can totally do this!

For more information, please see the original study:
Hamilton, K., Warner, L. M., & Schwarzer, R. (2016). The Role of Self-Efficacy and Friend Support on Adolescent Vigorous Physical Activity.Health Education & Behavior, 1090198116648266.