Exercise is critical for the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Physical conditions such as obesity can be prevented with proper and regular exercise. Additionally, people who participate in regular exercise are less likely to be at risk for physiological and psychological conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. But what factors influence a person’s decision to begin an exercise regimen? Additionally, what factors affect an individual’s likelihood to maintain an exercise program? To answer these questions, Britta Renner of the Department of Psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany recently led a study that examined the motivating forces behind the decision to begin and continue an exercise program among 389 middle-aged adults from Finland. The study assessed individuals who were part of lifestyle intervention program designed to prevent and diminish the risk for diabetes. Renner evaluated the participants’ beliefs about exercise and levels of exercise at the beginning of the program and again 3 months and 1 year postintervention.
Renner’s goal was to determine what motivated participants to begin the exercise regimen and what motivated specific individuals to continue their behaviors after the intervention ended. Additionally, Renner assessed the cognitive and physical improvements of the participants at follow-up. She found that self-efficacy played an important role in the decision to begin and maintain healthy behaviors. Specifically, Renner discovered that individuals with the lowest levels of self-efficacy prior to intervention saw the largest improvements in self-efficacy after the intervention. In other words, those with the least desire to exercise, due to psychological barriers such as mood issues or negative beliefs about the effects of exercise, exhibited the biggest increases in their ability to overcome those obstacles and limiting beliefs. These gains in self-efficacy led directly to planning behaviors that resulted in higher levels of participation and maintenance of exercise among the participants. Renner also found that the participants who maintained their programs had better physical and psychological health than those who discontinued the program. Renner said, “Health cognitions are amenable to change, and these changes are adaptive—that is, they are accompanied or followed by behavior changes.” She believes that these findings could help clinicians design more effective interventions that target both psychological and physical improvement in individuals at risk for health conditions.
Renner, B., Hankonen, N., Ghisletta, P., Absetz, P. (2012). Dynamic psychological and behavioral changes in the adoption and maintenance of exercise. Health Psychology 31.3, 306-315.
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