1.1.2. Improving Health Issues

Health Problems

What are the factors that account for these health problems that have arisen over the past 100 years? Most health problems faced by people in North America are chronic diseases that are preventable and caused by poor everyday choices and unhealthy lifestyles.

The links below provides more information about the leading causes of death in Canada and the United States. Using these links you can also find information on the leading causes of death for specific age groups. 

Leading Causes of Death in Canada

To see a 2014 chart that shows the leading cause of death by age group, click on the link below:

Leading Cause of Death by Age Group in America

In the video linked below, you will learn about the determinants of health as outlined by Healthy People 2020. Healthy People 2020 is a federal advisory committee comprised of non-federal, independent subject matter experts who gather data and provide advice on how to promote health and prevent disease in America.

Healthy People 2020 and Determinants of Health

The link below is to the Canadian version of Healthy People 2020, The Canadian Public Health Association. By following the link you can find information on their policies and missions. 

The Canadian Public Health Association

Behaviours That Promote Wellness

There are several lifestyle behaviours that can be modified to improve health and quality of life. Bad habits are hard to break, but choosing  healthier lifestyle behaviours provides benefits that go far beyond a more ideal body weight and shape.

Engage in Physical Activity. Being physically fit can stave off many of the diseases and medical conditions discussed in the previous section, including heart disease, the number 1 killer in America and 2nd leading killer in Canada. Exercise has shown to reduce stress and ease depression. Healthier employees are also more productive. Being physically fit nurtures the mind, body, and spirit and is the cornerstone of wellness. 

The following video illustrates how 30 minutes of physical activity a day can make drastic improvements to your overall health.

Video: 23 and 1/2 hours

The following link provides a daily activity log for you to determine how much time each day you spend being physical active. 

Physical Activity Journal

Choose a Healthy Diet. Choosing to eat healthy by eating the appropriate number of calories and consuming the recommended number of fruits and vegetables, minimizing processed foods, and eating a diet high in whole grains in fibre can help prevent obesity and several other diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. 

Manage Stress Effectively. Stress not only has a negative effect on cardiovascular health but in addition, people often cope with stress by binge eating, smoking, or drinking alcohol, all of which are detrimental to health. Finding effective ways to cope with stress such as meditation or exercise can greatly improve health. 

Avoid Smoking, Drugs and Excessive Alcohol. Substance abuse is directly linked to a number of health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke. In Canada, smoking has been linked to 37,000 deaths, and alcohol has been linked to 4300 deaths. Reducing the consumption of these substance can greatly increase lifespan and improve quality of life. 

Get Adequate Sleep. A lack of sleep can not only result in fatigue but can also increase stress and anxiety and reduce your immune system. Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night allows your body to recharge effectively improving your ability to tackle day to day challenges. 


Behaviour Modification

Making permanent lifestyle changes is one of the greatest challenges a person can face. This section will explore how changes to behaviour occur, the psychological barriers that hamper efforts to change, and tips for making lasting change. There is a wide range of factors that influence behaviour. Most of these factors can be assigned to the following categories:

  • personal or individual: Factors that stem from the individual including knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, skills, and genetics
  • social: Factors that stem from interacting with other individuals including friends, family, and community
  • environmental: Factors that stem from interactions with an individual’s surroundings including weather, the economy, technology, and geography

Successful often requires each of these categories to be considered. For example, if an individual decides to exercise more by bicycling to work everyday after their beliefs on daily exercise were changed at the individual level, but they do not consider the environmental factors that their work is at the top of a large hill or the social factors that they normally carpooled to work, their behaviour change will be challenging. However, if they consider the environmental factor of the large hill and start by cycling on less challenging terrain they will eventually be able to cycle to work without much difficultly. Additionally, if they decide to eat lunch everyday with their friends instead of carpooling, they will make up for the social factor preventing their behaviour change. 

How Changes in Behaviour Occur

Traditionally, health care practitioners relied on providing advice and information to spark behaviour change, assuming that it was a lack of information that was leading to poor behaviour choices. However, behaviour change is now understood to be highly complex process with several external and internal influences. There are several models for behaviour change, and depending on the individual and the behaviour some may be more useful than others.

The Transtheoretical Model, also called the Stages of Change Model, was developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in the late 1970s. Considered the dominant model for describing how behaviour changes occur, it evolved through studies examining the experiences of smokers who quit on their own and comparing them with the experiences of those requiring further treatment. The goal of those studies was to understand why some people were capable of quitting on their own. It was determined that people quit smoking if they were ready to do so. Thus, the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) focuses on the decision-making of the individual and is a model of intentional change. The TTM operates on the assumption that people do not change behaviours quickly and decisively. Rather, change in behaviour, especially habitual behaviour, occurs continuously through a cyclical process. The TTM is not a theory but a model; different behavioural theories and constructs can be applied to various stages of the model where they may be most effective.

The TTM posits that individuals move through six stages of change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination. Termination was not part of the original model and is less often used in application of stages of change for health-related behaviours. For each stage of change, different intervention strategies are most effective at moving the person to the next stage of change and subsequently through the model to maintenance, the ideal stage of behaviour.


“A process model for supporting lifestyle behaviour change (16)” by sportEX journals is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0


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Fundamentals of Health and Physical Activity by Kerri Z. Delaney and Leslie Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.