Understanding consistent exercise maintenance: Psychosocial factors related to long-term success


Regular exercise requires self-regulation for successful pursuit over weeks, months, and years. However, successful maintainers have not been the focus of psychological investigation. Indeed, those maintaining exercise over years have rarely been examined. We used recent theorizing about maintenance of health behaviours (Kwasnicka et al., 2013) to identify psychosocial factors characteristic of successful long-term patterns of exercise maintenance. Participants (N = 358) completed an online survey assessing outcome expectations, satisfaction, task self-efficacy, and self-regulatory efficacy (SRE) to overcome barriers and recover from lapses. Maintainers included individuals who consistently followed their pattern of weekly exercise for more than 6 months for at least 2 days per week lasting 30 minutes or more. Three groups were identified based on frequency of exercise bouts: low, 2-3 days; medium, 4-5 days; and high, 6-7 days. The sample average was 7 ± 3.92 years of maintenance of their weekly pattern. MANOVA revealed that high frequency maintainers reported significantly higher ratings of proximal outcome expectations, satisfaction, SRE barriers, and SRE recovery (ps <.05 - .001). This study is one of the first in the exercise literature to identify psychosocial factors consistent with maintenance theorizing and begins to fill a gap in this under-investigated area. The importance of SRE in the face of major challenges to maintenance is underscored as well as satisfaction with goals (Bandura, 2004; Rothman, 2000).