Theories of physical activity behaviour change: A history and synthesis of approaches

Review written by Dr Mariana Wingood info

Key Points

  1. Physical therapists realize that it is one of their roles to prescibe physical activity, but only half of therapists do it.
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According to survey research, approximately 95-99% of physical therapists are aware of the importance of physical activity (PA), but only about half incorporate regular PA prescription into their clinical practice (1-3). The reasons for the lack of regular PA prescription, defined as prescribing PA at least three times per week, are multifactorial. One factor is the lack of knowledge related to addressing barriers of physical activity, resulting in clinicians providing general recommendations. Unfortunately, general recommendations are often insufficient for increasing an individuals level of PA.

Therefore, physical therapists need to consider a range of behavioral influences, both internal (e.g. beliefs, cognitions) and external (e.g. social needs, contextual factors). In order to aquire insight and understanding about complex components of behavior change, clinicians can use theoretical frameworks to provide them with a structural method of assessing and addressing PA barriers (4). The objective of this paper was to overview the main theoretical frameworks that have been applied to understanding and changing PA.

Approximately 95-99% of physical therapists are aware of the importance of physical activity, but only about half incorporate regular physical activity prescription into their clinical practice.
Understanding and promoting behavior change is complex.


The social-cognitive framework is based on the principle that individuals perform a behavior based on their outcome expectation and capabilities (5). Meaning that individuals will prioritize PA if:

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