While the evidence for a clustering of health habits is not particularly strong, there are both pedagogic and economic arguments in favour of a multifaceted approach to health education. The present review thus examines the impact of regular physical exercise upon other forms of health behaviour, testing the extent to which an activity programme can be a catalyst of improved lifestyle in both primary and secondary preventive therapy. The conceptual framework of health promotion is examined with particular reference to the models of Skinner, Becker, Fishbein, Triandis and Rokeach. Certain differences are noted between the decision to exercise and the marketing decisions for which Fishbein's model was originally designed. Nevertheless, in its later modifications, it provides a basic framework for understanding how human lifestyle is shaped. Theoretical mechanisms are suggested whereby exercise could influence such behaviours as cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and drug usage, seat-belt usage, hypertension, body mass, lipid profile, promiscuous sexual behaviour, the carrying of lethal weapons, and acceptance of regular preventive medical examinations. The empirical evidence from both cross-sectional and longitudinal experiments shows a relatively weak association between exercise habits and other desirable forms of health behaviour. Moreover, it is arguable that other forms of health intervention such as smoking withdrawal or dieting might be equally effective as a primary change agent, and much of the observed association between exercise and other health habits could be attributable to a common dependence on demographic and socio-economic factors. On the other hand, the apparent weakness of associations may arise in part from difficulties in measuring both habitual physical activity and other forms of health behaviour, with a resultant attenuation of correlations. Possibly, a stronger association between exercise participation and other favourable health habits would be uncovered if attention were focused upon those forms of endurance exercise currently thought to enhance cardiac health. Given that moderate endurance exercise is also positive and pleasant advice, further examination of the potential of multifaceted but exercise-centered health promotion programmes appears warranted.
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