Psychological Determinants of Adolescent Exercise Adherence

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (1985), the typical American school-age child displays fitness and activity profiles well below the levels believed to be necessary to significantly lower health risks. In fact, only one-third of all American school-age children meet minimum fitness standards (Castrone, 1991). According to Varni (1983), one out of every five American children will develop clinical symptoms of coronary heart disease before age 16.

A wide array of factors can affect behavior; intrapersonal and environmental factors can combine in myriad ways to produce a given behavior. Likewise, the decision of whether or not to exercise has best been explained by interactional models where influences from several areas are considered. Environmental influences such as peer or parental support (Martin & Dubbert, 1985) as well as intrapersonal factors such as self-motivation (Dishman & Gettman, 1980; Dishman & Ickes, 1981), and perceived self-competency (Powell, 1988) have been found to have a significant impact on exercise behavior.

Some variables are beyond the control of researchers working in different settings. For example, although participation in organized sports as a child has been shown to have a positive relationship to adult participation in similar activities (Greendorfer, 1983), there is little that a trainer in a corporate fitness facility can do to change those previously established patterns. Likewise, although parental activity level has been shown to have a significant impact on a child's behavior (Gould & Horn, 1984), there is little a practitioner or researcher in a physical education classroom can do about parental activity level. However, if a student has low self-motivation, a physical education teacher could provide extrinsic rewards for continued exercise participation. Additionally, it is relatively easy to provide opportunities for student success in physical education programs, thereby influencing exercise self-efficacy or perceived physical competence.

Unfortunately, most of the actual exercise time in a typical physical education class is devoted to the performance of team sports and the development of motor skills which do not appeal to the majority of students (Williams, 1988). This excessive emphasis on such activities is likely to lead to future alienation from physical activity. Rather than promoting a lifelong fitness pattern, it seems that many public school physical education programs are laying the foundation for inactivity.

It is therefore important to be cognizant of psychological factors which increase the likelihood of youth adherence to exercise and begin to incorporate that knowledge into physical education settings early in life. Unfortunately, only in the last few years has anyone bothered to ask our youth what kind of physical activity they like (Fox & Biddle, 1988). Traditionally it has been the physiological rather than the psychological variables that have been measured. Many fitness tests provide important information about the physiological state of our youngsters' bodies, but what about their minds? Intrapersonal psychological variables have received little, if any, attention in physical education settings.

The intent of this study was to examine selected psychological variables in order to determine their influence on the exercise behavior of secondary school students. Of special interest in this study were differences in variable effects according to gender and level of exercise competitiveness.

Previous research on the determinants of exercise adherence has included comparisons of many different subgroups, including distinctions based on gender, age, and socioeconomic status, but very limited attention has been paid to differences based on race and type of physical exercise (Iverson, Fielding, Crow, & Christenson, 1985; Martin & Dubben, 1982, 1985; Powell, 1988). …