Exercise Low Priority Among Study Participants, Physical Self-Awareness a Big Factor
Dr. Tracy Alloway, an associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Florida, has found that people have commitment issues. Commitment to exercise that is.
Despite evidence that exercise has physical and mental benefits, there is still a high dropout rate. Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of daily physical activity and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week, according to the U.S. Department of Health.
The goal of the study, just published in the Community Mental Health Journal, was to develop and examine the reliability and validity of a scale to investigate how positive and negative emotions influence commitment to exercise. UNF alumni Brian Cohen and Ryan Parker, both psychology undergraduates at the time of the study, assisted Alloway with the research.
One reason why people struggle to maintain consistency in their workout programs is self-efficacy, or a person’s level of confidence in their ability to complete a set of behaviors, which can play a major role in how a person approaches goals, tasks and challenges.
“Although there are many possible reasons why people struggle to maintain consistency in their workout programs, such as lack of perseverance, time, energy or emotional support, self-efficacy is one of the key intellectual ways that predicts behavioral intention,” said Alloway.
Nearly 280 participants took part in the study, which took place over a six-month period. The majority of participants—96%—were under 30 years old and 17% were males. With respect to participants’ regular physical activity, 68% reported participating in aerobic/cardio activities (running, swimming, Zumba); 44% balance/flexibility training (yoga, Pilates, stretching); and 31.5% reported resistance training (weight lifting, cross training, bodybuilding, and powerlifting).
When considering self-efficacy in the context of exercise as a habit, one factor of interest is emotional stimulation and the perceived impact of exercise on the individual’s mental state. In order to measure this, Alloway developed the Impact of Physical Activity (IPA) scale to investigate how positive and negative emotions influence commitment to exercise.
There were 17 items on the IPA scale that were created to assess the impact of physical activity on a four-point scale. Questions explored positive and negative moods relating to exercise and looked at the areas of physical self-efficacy, dispositional optimism, depression and working memory, one’s ability to remember and process information.
The findings revealed that the IPA scale positively correlated with optimism and negatively correlated with depression. This pattern extends previous research on the link between exercise, optimism and depression, suggesting the emotions associated with exercise, and not just exercise itself, are also correlated with mental health.
“When people felt positively about exercising, this emotion was associated with an optimistic outlook,” stated Alloway. “Conversely, negative moods associated with a lack of exercise were related to a pessimistic outlook and depressive tendencies.”
The study also found that positive and negative emotions associated with exercising aren’t related to a more cognitive process, tapped by the working memory test given to participants. This finding has implications for how intentions are formed towards behavior, as emotional stimulation appears to be a more significant factor with respect to maintaining an exercise program.
Additionally, the IPA scale had good predictive validity of physical self-efficacy. The IPA scale scores predicted the participants’ commitment to exercising regularly at both the two- and four-week time frame. “It’s interesting to note that emotional stimulation associated with exercising was a stronger predictor of self-efficacy than optimism, pessimism or depressive symptoms,” Alloway said.
As a result of Alloway’s research, the IPA scale can be used to offer fitness professionals, coaches and personal trainers’ insight into how likely their clients will commit to maintaining an exercise program. As emotional stimulation makes it more likely that people will retrieve the relevant information to exercise, coaches can use this feedback to strengthen their client’s resolve and bridge the intention-behavior gap. Plus, individuals can also use knowledge of their own positive and negative moods to help direct their physical self-awareness.
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