Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Women's Motives to Exercise

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Women's Motives to Exercise

Article excerpt


Using Self Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985) as an overarching theoretical framework, the main purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between women's motives to exercise and their reported exercise behavior. Three hundred and thirty women (Age range = 20-61+) took part in the study. Participants were categorized into a 'no-exercise' group, a 'some exercise' group (less than 2.5 hours of exercise per week) or a 'recommended amount of exercise' group (minimum 2.5 hours of exercise per week). Controlling for the influence of age, MANCOVA analyses showed that the exercise groups differed significantly on most self-determined and controlling exercise motives. The results partly support propositions of SDT, and suggest that women may internalize exercise behavior as they become more physically active, however controlling motives are still pertinent. Exercise leaders and promotion specialists should look into ways of facilitating the internalization process in female exercise participants.


It is commonly accepted that participating in regular moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity has numerous health-related benefits. Physical activity reduces risks of lifestyle diseases, such as coronary heart disease (Lee, Rexrode, Cook, Manson, & Buring, 2001), and type II diabetes (Ivy, Zderic, & Fogt, 1999). Further, it can aid weight control (Fogelholm & Kukkonen-Harjula, 2000), and promote psychological well-being (Biddle, Fox, & Boutcher, 2000). Despite this, a nationally representative survey for England in 1998, revealed that 75% of women engage in less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on five or more days of the week, and between 33 to 50% of women do less than thirty minutes of physical activity per week, which is less than that performed by their male counterparts (Department of Health, 2000). Thus, there is a great need to examine factors that may encourage women in particular to become and remain physically active.

Evidence suggests that there are differences in the exercise motives that women and men typically report. Whereas more women than men report exercising for appearance, weight control, and mood, men are more likely to exercise for fitness and competition-related reasons (Frederick & Ryan, 1993; Furnham, Badmin, & Sneade, 2002; Ingledew, Markland, & Medley, 1998; Mullan & Markland, 1997; Smith, Handley & Eldredge, 1998; Tiggeman & Williamson, 2000). Bordo's (1994) suggestions that the female body is judged by what it looks like, whereas the male body is more often judged by what it does, might explain the differing motives between the gender groups. Interestingly, research by Ingledew, Hardy and de Sousa (1995) has shown that in women, body size discrepancy, but not body size, predicted weight management reasons for exercise. In contrast, for males, body mass but not body size discrepancy predicted the weight management motive. In other words, women who perceive themselves to be too heavy, even it they are not, tend to be motivated to exercise to control weight. Understanding more about women's motives to exercise is important as previous research has shown that those who exercise for the enjoyment they experience while exercising are more likely to adhere to their exercise programs compared to those people who engage in exercise for instrumental reasons (Wankel, 1993), such as body-related concerns. Biddle and Nigg (2000) have asserted that studies of motivation and exercise behavior should use conceptual frameworks.

Self-Determination Theory and exercise behavior

Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000) is one such framework. SDT proposes that motivation varies along a continuum ranging from a motivation, to extrinsic, to intrinsic motivation. These types of motivation differ in the extent to which they are autonomous or self-determined, because they represent different degrees of internalization of external goals and values. …

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