Osteoarthritis patients who have high confidence in their own ability to get tasks done in the morning tend to be more physically active throughout the whole day, regardless of their mood or pain levels, according to a new study at Penn State.
While prior research has investigated physical activity among people with other chronic conditions, the study is one of the first to explore the psychological aspect of activity in people with osteoarthritis.
The findings suggest that self-efficacy (confidence in one’s abilities) influences physical activity levels independent from other such factors as pain, mood, and support from a spouse. The researchers believe the findings, published in the journal Health Psychology, shed light on new ways to better design physical activity interventions.
Lead author Dr. Ruixue Zhaoyang, a postdoctoral fellow in Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging, said that although previous research has found physical activity to be one of the best ways to reduce and manage symptoms of osteoarthritis, pain often prevents these patients from being as physically active as they should be. This may result in further stiffness and deterioration in muscle strength.
“Osteoarthritis is a common condition, and we wanted to look at how we can help people who suffer from it improve their activity levels,” Zhaoyang said. “Self-efficacy is a very strong predictor of people’s physical activity, and we wanted to see how it specifically affects this population.”
For 22 days, a total of 135 participants recorded their self-efficacy each morning by answering such questions as, “How confident are you that you can be physically active today despite pain?” They also answered questions about their mood and how much pain they were feeling.
The patients then wore an accelerometer throughout the day, which recorded the intensity of their physical activity and how many steps they took.
The results show that participants’ self-efficacy had a significant positive effect on their steps and moderate-intensity activity throughout that day, even when controlling for such factors as pain, mood and support from a spouse.
One interesting aspect of the study was that it not only compared self-efficacy from person to person, but also day to day within the same person, noted Zhaoyang. This gave the researchers a better idea about how daily fluctuations in self-efficacy may influence a person’s activity.
The researchers noted that even if a person’s self-efficacy was lower than another person’s, it still resulted in more physical activity as long as it was higher for them personally.
“It’s all about what you think you’re able to do. If you feel more confident than you generally are, you’re more likely to be physically active that day,” Zhaoyang said. “It’s not about your confidence compared to other people, it’s about comparing it within yourself. If you feel more confident than yesterday, you are more likely to be more active than yesterday.”
Interestingly, the effect of a bump in self-efficacy failed to carry over to the following day.
“We measured whether self-efficacy can influence activity into the next day, and we did not find that was true,” Zhaoyang said. “So for someone who’s trying to help someone become more active, if you boost their confidence today, but don’t do it tomorrow, the effect will disappear.”
Dr. Lynn Martire, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies who also worked on the study, said the new findings could help researchers develop better intervention programs aimed at helping people become more active. Since the effect of self-efficacy only appears to last one day, the timing of motivational messaging is key.
“There are many exercise interventions that aim to increase activity through self-efficacy, and we’re seeing that the number one way to do that is to help people become more physically active to begin with and then build on it,” Martire said.
“And with mobile technologies like smartphones and FitBits, it’s getting easier to give people feedback in the right amount of time.”
Source: Penn State