The study lead Dr Keegan Knittle, from the University of Helsinki Faculty of Social Sciences, indicated that combining activity tracking with goal setting is especially important.
“Previous research has shown that combining self-monitoring and goal setting leads to changes in physical activity. It turns out that this combination increases motivation as well,“ Knittle says.
This finding could be important for anyone looking to become more active, but who is not sure of how to get started. In addition to goal setting and activity tracking, simply enrolling in an exercise class might have motivational benefits.
“Interventions which included instructions on how to be physically active and which allowed participants to practice led to increases in motivation,” Knittle says.
In other words, actively taking a first step toward being more physically active can be motivational.
“This is consistent with the classic foot-in-the-door paradigm, where taking one small step leads to taking a second and third step and so on.”
Face to face contact and group approaches increase motivation
To come to these conclusions, the researchers combined the results of 200 study arms in a meta-analysis, including data from nearly 19,000 individuals in many countries, primarily from Europe and the US. The participants in the various studies came from a variety of different backgrounds. The study looked for generalizable trends across these different backgrounds and locations of research.
In this study, which is the largest of its kind to examine physical activity motivation, the researchers also identified that programs delivered in face to face or group settings were more motivational.
“It seems as though personal contact is key to increasing motivation for physical activity,” Knittle tells.
“We aren’t sure exactly why these face to face and group approaches are more motivational, but it might be down to increased accountability for progress and increased opportunities for social comparison”, Knittle states.
The study, which is now published online in Health Psychology Review, also involved researchers from the University of Stirling in Scotland and Maastricht University in the Netherlands. A pre-print version of the article can be accessed via PsyArxiv at https://psyarxiv.com/upmy8/, and the published article is available from Taylor and Francis at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17437199.2018.1435299.
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Some graphs available here which show how changes in motivation were related to changes in physical activity behavior: