Investigating the predictors of exercise identity formation in new exercisers




Paziraei, Sara

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Background: While the physical and mental health advantages of regular physical activity are evident, 68% of adult Canadians are not meeting PA guidelines. Over the last thirty years, exercise behaviour has been mostly studied under the guise of the social cognitive framework, but emerging findings have shown identity to demonstrate predictive validity with physical activity independent of social cognitions. Exercise identity has been associated with increased frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise behaviour. Despite the bivariate correlation between identity and PA, the literature currently lacks longitudinal research to enhance the understanding of identity formation in new exercisers. Objective: The purpose of this study was to understand changes in identity among new exercisers based on the Physical Activity Self-Definition model and investigate whether exercise identity can predict exercise behaviour variations over nine weeks. Methods: Participants for this study were healthy adults (18-65) who were recruited from local gyms and recreation centres in Victoria, BC. The inclusion criteria were that participants must be new exercisers (new exercisers are those who just decided to exercise regularly or started exercising for less than 2 weeks, before baseline measurement) who were not meeting the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines upon recruitment. The study used a prospective, observational design with four measurement periods across nine weeks. Demographics were collected and exercise identity, affective attitude, commitment, capability and exercise behaviour were measured using questionnaires. The exercise Identity questionnaire was administered at 1 week, 3 weeks, 6 weeks and 9 weeks. Data analysis and longitudinal models used HLM and descriptive were generated with SPSS. Results: Affective attitude and commitment had significant correlations with identity, and identity had a significant correlation with exercise behaviour across all measurement times. Affective attitude, however, was the only significant predictor of exercise identity change over time. Capability was not associated with exercise identity. Furthermore, identity did not predict change in exercise over time. Discussion: This study provided insight into some of the factors that influence shifting exercise identity of new exercisers by testing the physical activity self-definition model (Kendzierski & Morganstein, 2009a) with longitudinal modelling. Based on the present results, it is recommended that health promoters focus on designing enjoyable programs for their novice clients, and provide a positive affective attitude toward exercising during each session. Although, exercise behaviours of the participants improved significantly during the course of this study, exercise identity was not able to predict the variation in exercise behaviour over 9 weeks. Overall, exercise identity formation can be a time-consuming process in adults, however, engaging in identity-related behaviours that are enjoyable can accelerate this process.



Exercise identity, Exercise promotion, Longitudinal design