Individually-adapted physical activity programs

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Individually-adapted physical activity programs teach behavioral skills that can help participants incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. Behavioral skills often include goal-setting, self-monitoring, positive self-talk, and self-reward systems. Individually-adapted programs are developed to align with personal interests, preferences, and abilities. Programs also include efforts to develop social support systems and proactive plans to prevent relapse into sedentary behavior1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved physical fitness

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved weight status

  • Improved mental health

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that individually-adapted physical activity programs increase physical activity and physical fitness for children and adults12. Behavior change techniques such as goal setting and self-monitoring, components of individually-adapted physical activity programs, have been shown to increase physical activity among overweight and obese adults3, 4.

Programs that focus on goal-setting, self-monitoring, building social support, behavioral reinforcement, and structured problem solving have been shown to increase physical activity and physical fitness in a variety of settings, including worksites and schools1; these behavior change techniques have been shown to enhance school-based, family-based, and community-based physical activity interventions5. Participants in individually-adapted physical activity programs that use behavior change techniques such as goal setting, progress monitoring, and self-regulating also improve mood when their physical activity increases by at least two sessions per week4.

Physical activity, nutrition, and obesity prevention interventions have successfully used individually-adapted behavioral change strategies, especially self-monitoring, goal-setting, progress monitoring, and planning, to increase physical activity levels among African-American men6. An Australia-based study of a multi-component school-based intervention with personalized physical activity plans suggests such plans increase time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) among adolescents in disadvantaged schools7.

Programs that combine professional guidance and self-direction appear to have more consistent effects than programs that lack professional guidance2. When behavioral change interventions are combined with exercise programs, participants have been shown to improve weight status in some circumstances8910

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Individually-adapted physical activity programs are implemented throughout the country. Programs can be implemented as independent single component programs, or combined to compliment other interventions. Examples include the University of North Carolina’s program A New Leaf…Choices for Healthy Living11, the Community Healthy Activities Model Program for Seniors12,  the University of California’s PACE projects13, and the University of New Mexico’s Step into Cuba program14.

Implementation Resources

A New Leaf-Toolkit - Center of Excellence for Training and Research Translation (CETRT). A new leaf…choices for living: Intent of the intervention.

CDC-Increasing physical activity 2011 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to increase physical activity in the community. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011.

CDC-PA strategies - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies that work for increasing physical activity.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

2 Cochrane-Foster 2005 - Foster C, Hillsdon M, Thorogood M, Kaur A, Wedatilake T. Interventions for promoting physical activity. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2005;(1):CD003180.

3 Samdal 2017 - Samdal GB, Eide GE, Barth T, Williams G, Meland E. Effective behaviour change techniques for physical activity and healthy eating in overweight and obese adults; Systematic review and meta-regression analyses. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2017;14:42.

4 Annesi 2015 - Annesi JJ, Nandan M, McEwen K. Effects of two cognitive-behavioral physical activity and nutrition treatments on psychosocial predictors of changes in fruit/vegetable and high-fat food intake, and weight. Hellenic Journal of Psychology. 2015;12(1):40-64.

5 Bleich 2018 - Bleich SN, Vercammen KA, Zatz LY, et al. Interventions to prevent global childhood overweight and obesity: A systematic review. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2018;6(4):332-346.

6 Newton 2014 - Newton RL, Griffith DM, Kearney WB, Bennett GG. A systematic review of weight loss, physical activity and dietary interventions involving African American men. Obesity Reviews. 2014;15(S4):93-106.

7 Sutherland 2016 - Sutherland R, Campbell E, Lubans DR, et al. ‘Physical Activity 4 Everyone’ school-based intervention to prevent decline in adolescent physical activity levels: 12 month (mid-intervention) report on a cluster randomised trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016;50:488-495.

8 Lombard 2009 - Lombard CB, Deeks AA, Teede HJ. A systematic review of interventions aimed at the prevention of weight gain in adults. Public Health Nutrition. 2009;12(11):2236-46.

9 Cislak 2012 - Cislak A, Safron M, Pratt M, Gaspar T, Luszczynska A. Family-related predictors of body weight and weight-related behaviours among children and adolescents: A systematic umbrella review. Child: Care, Health and Development. 2012;38(3):321-31.

10 Verweij 2011 - Verweij LM, Coffeng J, van Mechelen W, Proper KI. Meta-analyses of workplace physical activity and dietary behaviour interventions on weight outcomes. Obesity Reviews. 2011;12(6):406-29.

11 A New Leaf - WiseWoman. A new leaf…choices for healthy living: Assessment and counseling for nutrition, physical activity, smoking cessation, and osteoporosis prevention.

12 CHAMPS - Community Healthy Activities Model Program for Seniors (CHAMPS). University of California San Francisco.

13 UC-PACE - PACE Projects. Regents of the University of California (UC).

14 UNM PRC-Step into Cuba - University of New Mexico Prevention Research Center (UNM PRC). Increasing physical activity in New Mexico communities: Evidence- and practice-based strategies. Individually adapted programs: Step into Cuba.