Despite best intentions, a majority of individuals will begin an exercise program only to stop the program within a fairly short period of time. Studies estimate that up to 50 percent of gym members drop out within the first six months of a new exercise program.
A new study delves into this observation and discovers compliance with an exercise regimen is influenced more so by mental factors than physical prowess.
“Training plans are based on sport science, rather than psychological factors, and we thought that there must be a different way to analyze this behavior,” says Benjamin Wienke, the first author of the study and a doctoral student at Humboldt University in Berlin.
“So we decided to look at whether there could be an emotional explanation.”
Wienke and his collaborator, Darko Jekauc, interviewed a group of 24 men and women about their exercise habits, lifestyle, and their preferred activities.
Unsurprisingly, their results quickly showed that enjoyment was a common factor amongst those who kept a regular exercise routine. But the next question was, exactly what factors trigger this enjoyment?
Researchers analyzed the interview responses and discovered four major themes that translated into the positive emotions. They include perceived competence, perceived social interaction, novel experiences, and physical exertion.
The first factor associated with exercise or sport sustainability was that of perceived competence — a sense of achievement, mastery, or winning. This was at the top of the list for both men and women.
Next on the list, social interactions also ranked as one of the most enjoyable aspects of their activities, and this ranged from team sports to simply meeting friends at the gym.
Participants additionally reported that they were motivated by the adventure of trying new activities as well as the reward of physical exertion.
Several participants described the happy sense of being physically exhausted after their workouts and how this could help them distance themselves from the day-to-day worries of work and life.
Future studies are designed to confirm these findings in a larger study group. If supported, the four factors can be incorporated into exercise programs that could help people exercise more regularly.
“This could be a starting point to change the focus of sport programs to finding what people love doing, with less focus on technical data like counting calories,” says Wienke.
“These four factors could help increase adherence, and people would enjoy their programs more and achieve their goals better.”