I don’t follow trends or listen to the uninformed – I do, but solely for entertainment purposes – I follow the research. When it comes to health and fitness advice from self-professed “experts” or media personalities, I take it with a grain of salt. For example, have you seen Kim Kardashian’s fitness video, Fit in Your Jeans By Friday? You might lose weight, but you might also lose a few IQ points: she actually calls her body “volumptuous” around 44 seconds into this masterpiece – it’s voluptuous. Ugh. So what do you do if a Kardashian can’t motivate you to exercise? Recent research suggests that you should make some choices.
A research team from University of Nevada looked at how exercise choice affected motivation. Gabriele Wulf and her team recruited 29 university students (76 percent female) with an average age of 25. Baseline fitness was assessed using American College of Sports Medicine guidelines. Recruits were randomly assigned to either a control (10 females and 4 males) or choice group (11 females and 4 males). Participants in both groups performed four full-body exercises: lunges, jumping jacks, bear crawls, and medicine ball throws. Individuals in the control group were told that they had to perform exercises in a specific order, while choice group participants were instructed to perform the exercises in any order they wished. All participants were allowed to alter the number of sets and repetitions; however, the sets and repetitions had to be the same for all exercises.
The results of the fitness assessment showed that the fitness level of both groups were similar and all participants were able to complete their chosen number of sets and repetitions for all exercises. The choice group completed more sets (three) and repetitions (13) for each exercise than the control group (two sets and 11 repetitions). Overall, the choice group performed 60 percent more repetitions than the control group. The researchers contributed the increase in choice group sets and repetitions to autonomy. Wulf and her team point to research that suggest that control over life choices and decisions positively impact our lives from our overall sense of wellbeing to how we perform and learn. Their recommendations to professionals:
Instead of prescribing specific exercise or activity regimens, recognizing individuals’ fundamental desire to be in control by providing them with choices (e.g., types of exercises, weights, number of repetitions, sets, or workouts) might go a long way toward motivating them to engage in further activities.
These results should be taken with caution due to the small number of participants and the potential gender bias (76 percent female), but they do indicate that a certain amount of autonomy may increase exercise motivation. Now I’m off to try and fit in my jeans by Friday.
Rodney Steadman 26 December 2014
Wulf G, Freitas H, & Tandy R (2014). Choosing to exercise more: Small choices increase exercise engagement. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15 (3), 268-271 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.01.007