The effects of an autonomy-supportive computerized training intervention on exercise motivation, enjoyment, strength gains and adherence in older adults


Objective: To investigate whether modified exercise protocols, using programmable cards to increase or decrease participant autonomy, will result in differences in motivation levels. It was predicted that participants who were able to make choices in their training program were more intrinsically motivated and report greater autonomy than participants who were not able to make choices. Design: Six week randomized controlled trial Method: Participants (N=30) were recruited from a cardiac rehabilitation or a senior wellness exercise program. Participants were randomly allocated to one of three conditions, where participants either have a choice or no choice in increasing their load: choice (n=10), no choice (n=10) and control (n=10). The Behavioral Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire, the Psychological Need Satisfaction in Exercise Questionnaire and the Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale were collected pre- and post-intervention. An ANCOVA analysis was used to determine the effects of autonomy on motivation. Results: Participants in the no choice group felt less autonomy (M=4.78±0.22) than the participants in the choice group (M=5.67±0.22, p<0.05). Significant differences were also noted in competence levels, where individuals in the choice group felt more competent (M=5.37±0.18) compared to the no choice group (M=4.81±0.18, p<0.05). The no choice group (M=33.54±1.12, M=40.86±1.16, M=15.61±1.06) had significant increases in absolute strength gains compared to the choice (M=28.91±1.04, M=37.31±1.16, M=10.34±1.07) and control groups (M=26.55±1.22, M=35.42±1.30, M=9.69±1.19) at p<0.05 for core, lower and upper body exercises respectively. The control group had the lowest exercise adherence levels (M=0.791±0.05) compared to the choice group (M=0.935±0.04, p<0.05). There were no significant differences between the groups for intrinsic motivation levels. Conclusions: Giving participants a choice leads to greater autonomy and competence than no choice. The results provide a foundation to increase physical activity adherence in the aging population by using computerized mechanisms that provide exercisers with the choice to increase their exercise load.