The psychological treatment of sedentary behavior - psychology - 2023



We live in a sedentary society. Although in recent times the fact of exercising and sports has become popular, most people have a basic routine that requires them to spend a large part of the time sitting in a chair with little physical effort. Also at the leisure level, a large part of the population barely moves (for example, it spends much of its time watching television or on the networks), having a very passive life on a physical level.

Sedentary life can be a major problem: not doing any kind of physical activity is dangerous and can be a major risk factor for medical illnesses and mental disorders. It is even possible that people who want or need to stop leading this type of lifestyle do not know how to do it or are not trained for it. That is why on many occasions it will be necessary perform a psychological treatment of sedentary behavior.

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Sedentary lifestyle: definition and risks

Although it is a concept already known to most of the population, it never hurts to revise the meaning of the term sedentary lifestyle in order to know what we are going to deal with.

Sedentary lifestyle is defined by the World Health Organization as the lifestyle that involves the absence of regular physical exercise or tends to lack of movement, understanding as such the performance of less than half an hour of physical activity daily.

It is a lifestyle that began to originate with the birth of agriculture and livestock but has been increasingly accentuated with the passage of time, according to technological advances, it was not necessary to make large trips and minimized the effort necessary to carry out our tasks. Today, even for something as palatable as leisure or social relationships we hardly have to move, becoming more and more inactive.

Although not technically considered a disease or disorder, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the main modifiable risk factors for a large number of diseases, since it weakens the immune system and hinders the optimal functioning of the body. In fact, around two million premature deaths could be caused by this factor.

Associated disorders

Some of the medical conditions with which has been related are heart disease in general, obesity and hypertension, various types of cancer and metabolic disorders such as diabetes (especially type II). Derived from the above disorders, the risk of stroke may also be found to increase.

In addition to this, it also has an effect on a mental level: a sedentary person is much more likely to develop anxiety, stress or depression. As well facilitates and accelerates neuronal degeneration in patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

The advantages of sport

A relevant element when dealing with sedentary lifestyle is to show, on the one hand, the disadvantages that it has and, on the other, the multiple advantages of doing sports.

In this sense, it should be noted that doing sports generates endorphins, in a way that improves the subject's mood. Improves the health of our muscles and heart, strengthens our immune system and improves the quality of life. It also increases memory capacity and the level of energy and attention that we can put into play.

It also improves sleep and sexual intercourse. It reduces levels of anxiety and depression and is even a protective factor for suffering from dementias. It also tends to generate a feeling of control and increase perceived self-efficacy. Lastly, it stylizes the figure and improves overall fitness, which can help boost self-esteem in some people.

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The psychological treatment of sedentary behavior

The aspects discussed above indicate that sedentary behavior is a risk and a disadvantage for our body. That is why many people consider the need for a change for which they may not see themselves capable, or even in many cases they have not considered their lifestyle and that they go to psychological consultation for another reason but in which it is a very relevant factor (such as subjects with depression), which may require professional help.

Here are some aspects and techniques that can be used in the psychological treatment of sedentary behavior.

1. Analysis and evaluation of the initial state and maintenance factors

Before starting a psychological treatment of sedentary behavior it will be necessary assess how sedentary you are, if there are causes for it and what they are or if there are factors that prevent their behavior from changing. The subject's beliefs regarding exercise, health status (by medical examination), preferences, context, expectations, the possible presence of emotional problems and the subject's history of physical activity, among others, have been evaluated. factors.

Some of the most common reasons for having and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle or not doing any type of sport are lack of time, the presence of a low sense of self-efficacy (that is, the belief that they will not be able to doing sports or maintaining it over time), lack of self-esteem in general, discomfort or comparison with other people in daily life or in sports centers, the presence of disability or even the existence of methods of entertainment or the most comfortable and easy distractions to carry out.

All these factors must be taken into account and treated differentially in order to be able to carry out a successful psychological treatment of sedentary behavior.

Once evaluated, you can begin to apply a series of techniques to help the patient increase their level of activity. It is necessary to bear in mind that during this process different aspects must also be evaluated and plans modified according to the circumstances of each case.

2. Psychoeducation

Many people are not aware of the risks posed by a sedentary life, or although they know that it is not positive, they do not see a reason to change their behavior. In this sense, psychoeducation can be useful, showing advantages and disadvantages of both activity and physical inactivity. You can use graphic elements such as the realization of tables of pros and cons.

3. Cognitive restructuring and discussion of beliefs and thoughts

This technique can be needed at any time. And there are many irrational beliefs and expectations about what and how you should be yourself, what sport means or how the world can react to it. Posing them as a hypothesis, generating alternatives and conducting behavioral experiments to contrast each one of them can generate behavioral change.

Cognitive restructuring allows for example to combat dysfunctional beliefs about self-worth and self-efficacy that generate a depressive position and passive defenselessness. For example, various types of records can be used to compare initial expectations with the results of a behavioral experiment and see whether or not your beliefs conform to what you expected.

4. Development of objectives

If the subject agrees to introduce behavioral changes, they must be established jointly with the professional in such a way as to establish a set of objectives, gradual and realistic.

5. Generation of activity plan

If the subject agrees, a physical activity plan can be carried out. Together with him, he will analyze the circumstances, what you are willing to do, and your preferences and goals to form a coherent and achievable plan. It should be taken into account that a basic conditioning has to be done first and then go up the demands and maintain them over time.

6. Gradual exposure

It is important to keep in mind that doing physical exercise requires a certain level of effort. Although it will depend on each case, someone who is not used to it cannot start with excessively demanding exercises or they will find it complicated and tiring and will end up giving it up. It is because of that exercise should be considered gradually, inserting small physical activities (although not too easy, but rather a little challenge) in daily life.

7. Behavioral contract

One way to encourage patient commitment is to make behavioral contracts, in which the patient agrees to perform a certain activity, usually in exchange for a reinforcer. It may be useful to associate, for example, the performance of physical activity with the achievement of a highly pleasant activity for the subject.

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8. Self-instruction technique

A technique widely used in different areas in which a behavior must be learned or established, is based on the use and modification of the self-instructions or self-verbalizations that we carry out when we do some behavior (for example: I have to buy ... / I'm going to go and I'm going to tell you that…) so that these are more positive than the previous ones and induce us to act.

9. Self-control training

The feeling of having little capacity to control what happens to us or that our behavior hardly has positive consequences in order to achieve our objectives is one of the aspects that causes many people to remain in a state of passivity and lack of physical activity. Self-control training using Rehm's self-control therapy It can be very useful in helping the subject to self-monitor, evaluate himself in a positive way and reinforce himself for his behavior.

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10. Prevention of relapse

One last step to take into account when dealing with sedentary behavior is the idea of ​​trying to maintain the behavioral change over time and make it difficult for a sedentary lifestyle to re-emerge as a habit. In this sense, it is necessary to take into account the existence of factors that can generate this relapse and try to prevent it and generate alternatives for action. Likewise, the autonomy and sense of self-efficacy of the subject is promoted and reinforced.

11. Evaluation and monitoring

Depending on the subject, changes are introduced and once the treatment is finished it is necessary assess whether the objectives have been met, contrast the previous expectations with the results obtained and observe if at any point there have been difficulties and why.