Promoting Physical Activity for Health
As the field of physical activity and public health has emerged, it has become clear that many factors at many levels influence physical activity behaviors. Many investigators have used the social ecological model as a guiding framework to explain these multiple levels. They are illustrated in figure 3.6 and form the basis for the third section of this textbook.
At the center of the target in the social ecological model for physical activity behaviors are individual factors. These are the factors that are innate to each person and that differ among people. A person’s genetic makeup, early life experiences (e.g., youth sport participation), self-efficacy, and other factors, such as sex, disability, growth and development, and socioeconomic status, may all be important determinants of health behaviors such as physical activity.
Moving out from the center, social influences on physical activity are important. Research has now shown that individual factors are not enough to explain physical activity behavior. Determinants at the social influences level aren’t characteristics of the person per se, but are, rather, characteristics of how the person interacts with society or the culture. Influences at this level can include peers, medical care organizations (doctors), family members, and organizations (schools, places of worship, worksites).
The third level in the social ecological model represents environmental influences. These influences that may enhance or restrict physical activity behaviors are external to the person but common across societies and cultures. Research on the effects of the physical environment on physical activity participation has exploded as the field of physical activity and public health has emerged. The ability to influence the physical activity of vast numbers of people (instead of one person at a time) by making a single change makes environmental influences on physical activity a particularly interesting area of research. Aspects of the built environment such as the availability of places to be active (e.g., trails, sidewalks, fitness facilities, bicycle lanes, community and neighborhood design elements) are examples of environmental influences on physical activity.
Finally, the outer level represents policy influences on physical activity. Influences in this sphere include written or unwritten rules, codes, and norms that influence environmental or social determinants of physical activity. As with the physical environment, determinants at this level are particularly attractive because of their potential to influence many people. Examples of policy influences on physical activity include policies allowing increased access to places to be physically active (making it easier to be physically active), educational policies (e.g., mandating high-quality daily physical education for schoolchildren), and transportation-related policies (e.g., making it easier to walk or bicycle for transportation).
By combining knowledge, skills, and abilities related to the basic exercise sciences and public health, you can better explain and discuss professionally the health benefits and risks of exercise and physical activity (see part II, chapters 5 through 10)to your peers, colleagues, and the communities you serve. An understanding of the specific challenges that affect physical activity and exercise in professional exercise science jobs can clarify how the exercise sciences affect public health, and vice versa. The highlight box Careers Combining Exercise Science and Public Health lists careers in exercise physiology, biomechanics, and sport and exercise psychology that are commonly seen in the professional areas of health and fitness, preventive medicine, athletic performance, and rehabilitation.
Practitioners of Physical Activity in Public Health
Physical activity and public health is an emerging discipline with many opportunities. People with training in this area, particularly at the master’s level, are employed in state and local health departments working on public health programming for physical activity promotion. Many universities have research opportunities for people interested in studying physical activity and public health. Finally, private foundations and nongovernmental organizations are interested in people with training and interests in physical activity and public health.
In 2006, a new professional organization was created in the United States. The National Society of Physical Activity Practitioners in Public Health (NSPAPPH) is a dedicated group of professionals interested in advancing the capacity of professionals in physical activity and public health in the United States. The group has taken a major leadership role in developing a definition of what it means to be a professional in the field of physical activity and public health and what core competencies are necessary for leadership in community-level interventions and to promote and evaluate the effectiveness of those interventions. Many of the core competencies put forth by NSPAPPH are addressed in this textbook and are found at the end of each chapter as a cross-reference.
NSPAPPH has developed resources, trainings, and a certification (Physical Activity and Public Health Specialist) to advance physical activity and public health as a profession. The certification is a voluntary credential that is a U.S. national standard for professionals working in this area. Important knowledge, skills, and abilities in partnership development, planning and evaluation, exercise science, development of effective interventions, and evaluation of scientific data are part of NSPAPPH’s training and certification procedure. Knowledge and skills in each of these areas are critical for advancing physical activity and public health and developing a successful career in the field.