A recent article I read mentioned a study that looked at motivation and exercise. The results of the study were not only interesting but also confirmed what I have thought about exercise for a long time…that we fluctuate in our motivation to exercise, sometimes even on a weekly basis. Researchers from Penn State University recruited 33 college students and assessed over a ten-week period both the students’ weekly intentions to be physically active and their activity levels. During each of the ten weeks, participants were instructed to log on to a website and to rate their intentions to perform physical activity for the week ahead. To assess physical activity, participants were instructed to wear pedometers each day for the first four weeks. The team found that for many of the participants, the motivation to exercise fluctuated on a weekly basis, and these fluctuations were linked to their behavior. The results appear in the current issue of the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology.
[“Our motivation to be physically active changes on a weekly basis because we have so many demands on our time,” said one of the leading researchers. “Maybe one week we’re sick or we have a work deadline – or, in the case of students, an upcoming exam. But these lapses in motivation really seem to be destructive. 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.”…”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,” he said. “If a person was really motivated during the week, then he or she crashed on the weekend.”]
I believe the results wouldn’t be all that different if adults were studied. Even for me (and I consider myself to have strong intentions), the weekend can be a time of either “letting up” or “getting going” depending on how the previous week has gone. If I kept a rigorous fitness schedule during the week, I sometimes find that I am more apt to skip a day on the weekend or go easy. However, if the week was full of good intentions that were interrupted by “life” that got in the way, then I try to motivate myself to have a weekend warrior workout.
The one thing, though, that I see as an indicator of stick-to-it-ism (obviously my unscientific term) is intention and motivation combined. The link between the two of those things, again – in my opinion, is decision. In other words, if we rely on our motivation, we may not be consistent; and if we rely on our intentions (or even our schedule), things can come up and interfere with our plans for exercise. The one thing that must be in place is a decision to do it no matter what. Obviously there will be times when external circumstances prevent exercise, but for the most part a decision to fit it in (usually at a set time) is essential for consistent fitness. I wrote about this decision-making process at 9 Kid Fitness in a previous post (Like Love, Exercise is a Decision) and I still believe it holds true for me today. Like so many other things in life (even love and marriage), decisions are the key to fufilling our short term and long term goals. Fitness is no different and must be an integral part of our daily or weekly schedules if we are gong to keep doing it.
What about you? What do you think about motivation and exercise?