Approximately 60% of men, 70% of women, 30% of boys and 40% of girls do not meet recommended levels of physical activity. Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of death in developed countries, responsible for:

  • 22-23% of CHD
  • 16-17% of colon cancer
  • 15% of diabetes
  • 12-13% of strokes
  • 11% of breast cancer

By increasing levels of physical activity it would contribute to the prevention and management of over 20 conditions and diseases. The direct and indirect costs of physical inactivity has estimated to cost England around £8.2 billion a year. In England alone 44% of men and 35% of women are overweight and almost a quarter of adults were classified as obese. In 2009 one in three children were classified as overweight or obese. As we can see, it is very important to study exercise behaviour and the reasons as to why people do and don’t exercise.

There are a number of reasons as to why people exercise:

  • Weight Control
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Enjoymen
  • Self-esteem
  • Socialising

However it is also important to acknowledge the reasons as to why people don’t exercise. Most people blame not exercising on a lack of time (69%), lack of energy (59%) and lack of motivation (52%). As we can see all of these sources are internal and can be controlled by an individual. Therefore a change is needed to address this issue.

After joining an exercise programme it is found that around 50% of people drop out after the first 6 months. Why is this happening? It can be argued that for many people exercise programmes are too challenging, over restrictive and based solely on fitness data. They do not promote self responsibility and they do not empower people to make long term behaviour change. We shall look at different health models explaining exercise adherence.

The Social Cognitive Theory: Exercise behavior is influenced by both personal, behavioural and environmental factors, particularly self-efficacy. Higher levels of self-efficacy lead to more exercise participation. Self-efficacy is especially important where exercise is most challenging.

Theory of Planned Behaviour: Exercise behaviour is made up of intentions, subjective norms, attitudes, and perceptions of ability to control behaviour. Mummery and Wankel (1999) found that swimmers who held positive attitudes towards training believed significant others wanted them to train hard (subjective norms). They also held positive perceptions of their swimming ability (perceived behaviour control) and formed stronger intentions to train harder than people who didn’t hold these attitudes.

Transtheoretical Model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983): This model argues that a person progresses through six stages of change:

  1. Pre contemplation: this is when the person does not exercise, may be demoralized
  2. Contemplation: Thinking about exercising, intend within 6 months, stay in this stage for 2 years
  3. Preparation: Exercising sometimes but not regularly
  4. Action: Exercising regularly but for less than six months
  5. Maintenance: Exercising regularly for more than six months
  6. Termination: Exercising for 5 years or more

All these different models have different approaches to looking at health beahviour and it is important to acknowledge that each has a number of limitations.

It is important to look at factors that affect exercise adherence. These are split into personal and environmental factors.

Personal Factors Environmental Factors
Demographics = education, income and socioeconomic factors are positively related to physical activity. Gender is also related to levels of physical activity which is higher in males. Social= support from family and friends is strongly linked to physical activity level participation. Spousal support is important for enhancing adherence rates to exercise programmes
Personal factors (Personality)  = the more motivated you are the more likely you are to take part in physical activity. Environment= a convenient location is an important predictor of exercise behaviourClimate= Activity levels are lowest in winter and highest in summer
Behavioural = previous physical activity is a strong predictor of current participation. There is a positive relation between childhood physical activity levels and adult physical activity patterns Physical activity characteristics= exercise intensities should be kept at moderate levels or self paced.Group exercising produces higher levels of adherence.
Leadership = Exercise leaders influence the success of an exercise program. They should be knowledgeable, likeable, energetic, give lots of feedback and praise, help participants set flexible goals, show concern for safety and psychological comfort.

Tips for Enhancing Exercise adherence

  • Provide knowledge on benefits of exercise.
  • Match the intervention to the participant’s stage of change.
  • Tailor the intensity, duration, and frequency of exercise.
  • Promote exercising with a group, friend or partner.
  • Practice time-management skills.
  • Provide cues for exercises (signs, posters, cartoons).
  • Have participants sign a contract
  • Offer a choice of activities.
  • Provide rewards for attendance
  • Find a convenient place
  • Encourage goals to be self-set and flexible.