The mindfulness, acceptance and commitment approach to encouraging a physically more active lifestyle

The aims of this research were to examine the differences in psychological well-being between physically less active and active adults and to explore the effectiveness of an acceptance- and commitment-based behavioural intervention in encouraging a physically more active lifestyle among physically inactive adults.

The dissertation included a randomised controlled trial (RCT) among physically inactive adults aged 30 to 50 years (N=138) and a cross-sectional study on physically active (N=50) and less active adults (N=58). In the cross-sectional study, the participants completed a questionnaire reporting their mindfulness skills, psychological flexibility, and psychological and depressive symptoms. In both studies, physical activity was self-reported and measured using accelerometers. In the RCT, physically inactive participants were randomly allocated to a feedback-only group (FB, N=69) or to an acceptance- and commitment-based behavioral intervention group (ACT+FB, N=69). Both groups received written feedback concerning their physical activity and were offered a body composition analysis. In addition, the ACT+FB group attended six 1.5- hour group sessions and were given a pedometer during the nine-week intervention. All participants’ self-efficacy, planning and acceptance of psychological and physical discomfort related to physical activity were evaluated at baseline and at three- and six-month follow-ups.

Physically active individuals had better mindfulness skills and less psychological and depressive symptoms compared to physically less active adults. No difference was observed in the change of physical activity between the FB and ACT+FB groups over time. Participants in both groups increased their physical activity with high individual differences. Self-efficacy, planning, and the acceptance of psychological and physical discomfort related to physical activity improved more in the ACT+FB group than in the FB group. In addition, after reanalysing the data among non-depressive adults, a higher stability was observed  regarding objectively measured physical activity at the individual level between the three- and six-month follow-ups in the ACT+FB group as compared to the FB group. Furthermore, the change in acceptance of discomfort related to physical activity was associated with positive change in self-reported physical activity, but not with accelerometer-based physical activity and also mediated the association between change in barriers self-efficacy and change in self-reported physical activity in the ACT+FB group.

The results indicate that having a physically active lifestyle is related to better psychological well-being and mindfulness skills. Moreover, the results suggest that the ACT+FB intervention was beneficial in supporting the physically inactive adults´ cognitive change related to physical activity and brought about a more stable improvement in physical activity behaviour at the individual level, especially among the non-depressive participants. The novel findings also suggest that the acceptance of discomfort related to physical activity may play an important, beneficial role when trying to change to a physically more active lifestyle.


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City (for University):
University of Jyväskylä