Expectations, outcomes, and motivation in new exercisers


Bandura's (1986) Social Cognitive Theory suggests that individuals' outcome expectations for a behaviour will affect motivation, such that when people's expectations are not met, their motivation to persist in the behaviour is negatively impacted. New exercisers often begin programs with high hopes for change in many aspects of their lives, and when their actual outcomes fall short of their expectations, exercise participation may decline or cease altogether. The purpose of this study was to explore the outcome expectations of participants who had completed a one year exercise program. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 17 participants (10 females), with an average age of 49.2 (SD = 10). Upon initial analysis using a qualitative description approach, six themes emerged. These themes included 1) weight loss and changes in appearance, 2) social support, 3) increased competence in exercise, 4) quality of life outcomes, 5) unexpected environmental and personal barriers, and 6) accountability and commitment to a structured research program. It is worth noting that after the completion of the one year program, the majority of these participants did not continue exercising at the same level of frequency or intensity. It may be important for new exercisers to regularly re-evaluate their expectations and adjust goals accordingly in order to maintain motivation for exercise. This research also reinforces the importance of imparting realistic expectations when "selling" exercise to a sedentary population.

Acknowledgments: This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.