Get Off That Couch - Every Week!

Physical activity levels are influenced by how motivated people are to exercise

(RxWiki News) Successfully adding regular exercise into your life doesn't happen overnight. Obvious as it may sound, your level of motivation really does matter each and every week.

A study of college students' activity levels and intention to exercise revealed that fluctuations in their motivations affected the level of activity they participated in that week.

Therefore, people planning to make a lifestyle change must incorporate weekly motivation into their plans if they want to be successful.

"Motivate yourself every week to exercise."

Penn State kinesiology professor David Conroy and colleagues evaluated 33 college students over ten weeks to compare their weekly intentions to exercise and their actual activity levels.

Each week, the students logged on to a website and rated what their intentions were regarding physical activity for that week.

Their physical activity was assessed using pedometers daily for the first four weeks of the study.

The motivation levels of the students changed from one week to the next, but it correlated with how much exercise they actually did.

"Our results suggest that people with consistently strong intentions to exercise have the best chance of actually following through on their intentions, while people with the greatest fluctuations in their motivation have the hardest time using that motivation to regulate their behavior," Conroy said.

Another factor playing a part in a person's activity level is the day of the week.

"We saw that people who consistently reported stronger intentions to be active were more active during the week, but then on weekends the pattern flipped for them," said Conroy. "If a person was really motivated during the week, then he or she crashed on the weekend."

Conroy acknowledged that these results may not apply to other age groups besides college students because of their unique schedules and the particular demands on their time.

Students may be exhausted from having regulated their behavior and managed their time so carefully during the week that on the weekends they need to recharge their batteries and throw their time management out of the window. If we had done this study with mid-life or older adults, I don't know that we would have seen the exact same pattern."

One conclusion that can be generalized, however, is that a more effective method of making a sustained change in someone life is to focus on maintaining motivation for that change from one week to the next.

"It is important to pay attention to how we can sustain a high level of motivation and not just let that motivation degrade in response to all the external demands we face," Conroy said.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. It was funded by the National Institute of Aging at the National Institutes of Health.