Promising findings: ACT for physical activity – a systematic review

Physical activity is crucial for maintaining good health and preventing various diseases. However, many individuals struggle with adhering to regular exercise routines. Standard behavioural interventions have shown short-term effectiveness in improving adherence, but long-term results are often challenging to achieve. An interesting study by Manchón and colleagues came out in 2020 that reviewed the data from studies that looked at he application of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for increasing physical activity and adherence (Manchón et al., 2020).

Summary of the study

The systematic review examined 21 intervention studies, including ten randomised controlled trials, that explored the effects of ACT on physical activity and adherence. The results indicated that ACT showed promising outcomes in increasing physical activity levels and maintaining changes during follow-up. All studies demonstrated an increase in physical activity and adherence, although statistical significance or clinical relevance was not reached in two of them. The review highlighted the potential effectiveness of ACT in promoting long-term adherence to physical activity programmes.

Implications for practitioners

Incorporate ACT into interventions: Practitioners working with individuals struggling to adhere to physical activity regimens can consider integrating ACT techniques into their interventions. ACT can help individuals develop psychological flexibility and overcome barriers to engaging in physical activity.

Focus on values and commitment: ACT emphasises identifying personal values and making commitments consistent with those values. Practitioners can assist clients in clarifying their values related to physical activity and help them establish commitments that align with their goals. This approach can enhance motivation and long-term adherence.

Address barriers and discomfort: ACT offers strategies to address barriers such as lack of motivation, negative affect, and physical discomfort. Practitioners can help individuals recognise and accept these internal experiences while encouraging them to engage in physical activity despite discomfort. This may involve mindfulness techniques and defusion exercises.

Tailor interventions for chronic diseases: Individuals with chronic diseases face unique challenges when it comes to engaging in physical activity. Practitioners can adapt ACT interventions to address specific barriers related to chronic conditions, such as pain, tiredness, or comorbidities. By addressing these barriers, practitioners can enhance adherence to physical activity programmes.

Conclusion

The systematic review provides promising evidence for the effectiveness of ACT in increasing physical activity and adherence. ACT-based interventions can help individuals overcome barriers, develop psychological flexibility, and align their behaviour with personal values. Practitioners can utilise ACT techniques to enhance long-term adherence to physical activity programmes, especially among individuals struggling to maintain regular exercise routines.

Reference

Manchón, J., Quiles, M. J., León, E. M., & López-Roig, S. (2020). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy on physical activity: A systematic review. Journal of Contextual Behavioural Science, 17, 135-143. doi:10.1016/j.jcbs.2020.07.008

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