What Motivates People to Exercise

Some people exercise for social purposes.

What motivates people to exercise? The answers may be more complex than you expect.

Learning What Motivates People to Exercise

If you are trying to get a friend, relative or significant other to work out, it's important to understand what motivates people to exercise. Each person may have his or her own reason for joining a gym or starting an exercise program. You can motivate a person by appealing to this line of reasoning.

Exercise Motivation Research

A study performed at the University of Bath in England explored the exercise motivation of 281 male and female undergraduates. The researchers asked half of the group to imagine a physically unattractive version of themselves. They then asked this group to either imagine a situation in which they failed to continue an exercise routine, or one in which they adhered successfully to the program.

The researchers discovered that those who had been asked to think about a failed exercise routine were motivated to keep working out because they were fearful of looking unattractive. The participants who were asked to imagine that they were succeeding in getting in shape were less motivated to continue, because they did not have this fear of looking unattractive. This study indicates that fear of gaining weight or losing muscle tone may be one of the major reasons that people embark on an exercise program.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

The desire to work out may stem from either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. A person who enjoys the physical experience of exercise is said to be intrinsically motivated. He or she may enjoy the post-workout high, the experience of moving to the music or the feeling of the muscles being pumped. The exhilaration and sense of accomplishment that comes from lifting heavier weights, running longer or faster as well as gaining proficiency at a sport are also examples of an intrinsic motivation to exercise.The mental aspects of working out also stem from intrinsic motivation. Exercise reduces stress, decreases depression and improves concentration. It may also boost confidence.

Extrinsic motivation for exercise is much more complicated. It is usually based on an imaginary better life if one can only lose weight or get in shape. A man may think that he may be more eligible for a promotion if he becomes as fit as a colleague that competes in the corporate races. A woman may feel that she will be more desirable to the object of her affection if she loses weight.

Instructors and personal trainers often become the object of someone's extrinsic motivation. For example, a client or exercise class member will work out harder as a means of trying to impress the instructor. Extrinsic motivation, unfortunately, is rarely a sustaining method of maintaining exercise adherence. It might work in the beginning, but when a person discovers that getting in shape did not create a dramatic change in her situation, she might abandon her workout.

Exercise Compliance

A number of important factors influence exercise compliance. These may include:

  • Convenience: Joining an exercise facility that is in close proximity to your home or workplace makes it easier to stick to the program.
  • Ambiance: The ambiance of the fitness facility has a strong influence on compliance. This may include the facility's cleanliness, color patterns and smells. Some facilities have individual video screens on the aerobic equipment, so it no longer becomes a choice between working out and missing your favorite shows.
  • Social atmosphere: Many people join a fitness facility because they enjoy the company of the other members. A chat with a friend can make the time on a treadmill move faster.
  • Sport performance: A well designed sport-specific program can provide concrete rewards. When balance, speed or agility is improved, athletic performance is enhanced.
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What Motivates People to Exercise