Motivation to Exercise: Social or Personal Factors?

Everybody needs to exercise regardless of one’s age, gender, socio-economic status, or even physical or mental capabilities. Exercising can be in the form of sports, going to the gym or merely just walking around the housing area. According to Hornby (2005), the word exercise means activities; bodily activities such as moving the extremities or the trunk and psychological actions that is done in order to maintain health. According to Bouchard, Blair and Haskell (2007), exercise is basically considered as a repetitive psychical activity that is done to spend one’s free time in order to sustain and increase a person’s bodily robustness. Exercise, defined as planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness (National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Panel, 1996). Exercise: physical activity carried out for the sake of health and fitness (Soanes& Stevenson, 2004). Now the question is does everybody exercise? Is motivation important in exercising? What usually motivates a person to exercise? We know the answer to the first question by just looking at the people around us. Not everyone we know exercise. Yes, motivation is very important to exercise. As that influences a person to exercises or not to exercise. A person who exercises generally has a motive or also widely known as motivation. Motivation, according to Hornby (2005) is the explanation for a person to act in a certain manner. Motivation: the stimulus, incentive, or inducement to act or react in a certain way. Purposeful behavior is motivated behavior, which means that either physiologic or social stimuli activate or motivate a person to do something (Nunez & Fehrenbach, 2007). There are different aspects to motivation. It could be an external factor or an internal factor. External motivation: incentive that accrues as a result of influence from outside sources; inducement to act or change based on the expectations and examples of other people. Internal motivation: incentive that accrues from within an individual; inducement to act or change based on an inherent or intrinsic desire (Nunez & Fehrenbach, 2007). Motivation to exercise would vary between one person to the other. It could be to lose weight, to maintain their body figure, to increase one’s self esteem, to spend time with friends or to stay healthy by avoiding degenerative diseases such as obesity, cardio-vascular disease, and hypertension. This research focuses on the two factors that contribute to the motivating a person to exercise which are the social factors and the personal factors. What is a social factor? According to Hornby (2005), the word social is defined as associated with actions that revolve around folks so that they get to congregate for contentment. The word factor according to Hornby (2005) means the reason to engage in an activity. Social motivation: an incentive or drive resulting from a sociocultural influence that initiates behavior toward a particular goal. (Nunez & Fehrenbach, 2007) The social factors that is tested in this study are time spend with friends, wining in physical activities over friends, fitting in social circle and so on. What is personal factor? According to Hornby (2005), the word personal means that a person has possession of something and others do not own it. Self-motivated: motivated to do something because of one’s own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others, acting on one’s own initiative without external pressure (Soanes& Stevenson, 2003). The personal factors that are tested in this research are that exercising gives people the time to think, to keep one’s body healthy and so on.

One theoretical perspective that appears useful for understanding various motivational issues in physical activity settings is self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2002). SDT accounts for the quality of motivation regulating behavior, as well as, the processes that facilitate motivational development (Deci & Ryan, 2002) that holds considerable appeal for understanding “why” people initiate, persist, and terminate their involvement in various physical activities (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2007). According to Deci and Ryan (2002), basic psychological needs represent innate “nutriments” (p. 7) that when satisfied authentically within social contexts promote integration, adaptation, and directly impact well-being. In contrast, environments that stifle opportunities to satisfy basic psychological needs provoke ill-being (Deci & Ryan, 2002). SDT proposes that motivation is multidimensional and resides along a continuum of self-determination ranging from amotivation (i.e. when a person lacks the motivation to act) through extrinsic motivation (i.e. when a person acts in response to external cues) to intrinsic motivation (i.e. when a person acts for the inherent pleasure derived from that particular activity) (Deci and Ryan, 1985). The basic psychological needs for competence (effectively mastering challenging tasks within one’s environment; Deci & Ryan, 2002), autonomy (feeling a sense of ownership over one’s behaviors such that they stem from an internal perceived locus of causality; Deci & Ryan, 2002), and relatedness (feeling a meaningful connection with others in one’s social milieu; Deci & Ryan, 2002) have long been advocated within the SDT framework as fundamental to human development and well-being. SDT also considers that what goal a person holds for the activity will be important for a number of outcomes (Deci & Ryan, 2002).. The content of goals can be classified as either intrinsic or extrinsic (Kasser & Ryan, 1996). Intrinsic goals, such as the formation of social relationships and self-development, stem from a person’s core values and are inherently rewarding to pursue. As such, they promote self determined behavior and well-being (Furnham et al., 2002).

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In a study conducted by Fontaine et al. (2002) based in an African American Apostolic church, 48 participants completed measures of social support, health-related quality of life, depression, exercise self-efficacy, and exercise motivation and then participated in an exercise program for 6 months. Exercise Motivation Inventory used to determine the personal motivations to participate in an exercise program comprised 14 subscales: stress management, revitalization, enjoyment, challenge, social recognition, affiliation, competition, health pressures, ill-health avoidance, positive health, weight management, appearance, strength and endurance, and nimbleness, where a higher score predicted a higher motivation. This study found that, in this community, people with high scores on affiliation were more likely to attend the exercise program. The authors concluded that exercise adherence is a complicated phenomenon that is influenced by a variety of environmental, personal, and social factors. Social factors, in particular, may be important in promoting adherence to an exercise program in African Americans. However, it must be noted that the sample size for this study was small which prohibited the use of multivariate statistical techniques (i.e., logistic regression) to evaluate the predictive value of the study variables (Fontaine et al., 2002). In another study conducted by Gillison (2001) using a sample of 580 British schoolchildren, a model grounded in self-determination theory was explored to examine the effects of exercise goals on exercise motivation, leisure-time exercise behavior. Exercise goal content was measured using the Reasons for Exercise Inventory. Motivation towards exercise was measured using The Behavioral Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire. This study hypothesized that self-determined motivation would partially mediate the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic goal content and leisure-time exercise. Intrinsic (and therefore more adaptive) goals for exercise can persist despite the presence of body related anxiety. Results of structural equation modeling revealed that adolescents perceiving themselves to be overweight and pressurized to lose weight endorsed extrinsic weight-related goals for exercise. Extrinsic goals negatively predicted, whereas intrinsic goals positively predicted, self-determined motivation, which in turn positively predicted exercise behavior. Self-determined motivation partially mediated the effects of exercise goals on reported exercise behavior. Results suggest that holding extrinsic exercise goals could compromise exercise participation levels. Teachers and parents are proposed with the aim of orienting young people towards intrinsic goals in an attempt to enhance future exercise behavior. It was hypothesized that self-determined motivation would positively predict participants’ leisure-time exercise. Conversely, extrinsic goals stem from aims to achieve outcomes separable from the activity itself, such as wealth and status, and are usually formed in response to external pressures. Extrinsic exercise goals negatively predicted, while intrinsic goals positively predicted, levels of self-determined motivation. In turn, greater self-determination in motivation predicted higher levels of leisure-time exercise. Fostering intrinsic goals could be beneficial for improving the mental health and exercise behavior in adolescents (Gillison, 2001). Dishman, Hales, Ward, Pfeiffer, Felton, Saunders, Dowda and Pate (2006), conducted a study on 1250 girls (39% White, 54.6% Black and 3.9% Others) whose mean age are of 17.66 years old from public high schools in South Carolina. The results of their study indicated that as bodily actions and partaking in games increases in an individual, their general perception of one’s physical self increases too. General perception of one’s physical self in this study focuses on aspects such as power, stamina, looks, and skills in a game. This means that people take part in games and exercise to increase their self-esteem or skills to avoid psychological conditions like depression. Although this study was conducted only among females and of those in the youth category, the results can still be applied to people of all ages and all walk of lives as exercising and it’s motivation are applicable for everyone. Ekeland, Heian, and Hagen (2005) conducted a study on 1821 kids and youngsters on the relationship between self-esteem and exercising. They discovered that physical activity is highly related positively with self-esteem. As the number of participants is high, the results can be well substantiated.

On the other hand, there are many social factors that seem to be more convincing as compared to personal factors in predicting the motivation on exercising. Group cohesion plays an important role in this content. It contributes a positive connection on exercising regarding different aspects of group. All individuals that formed a group will become more significant. A person’s act is influence by a group. It has been proven that there are effective associations between the mutual effort and conceptions of stay in a group. Abele and Ehrhart (as cited in Spink, Wilson, & Priebe, 2010) proposed that as peoples thought themselves and others were in the same group, peoples were put more efforts toward the task that they work together. There are five specific variables identified by Carron & Hausenblas (1998). The five variables are common fate, mutual benefit, social structure, group processes, and self-categorization. Common fate can be described as an event that joins by all the group members and they share the same consequences together (Fiedler, 1967). Mutual benefit implies that the requirements obtained among the group members in a certain works (Bass, 1960).Whereas social structure can be defined as the position and duty in a group (Sherif & Sherif, 1956). Shaw (1981) commented group processes as the conversation and useful interactions that take place within a group. The last variable that is self-categorization implies a sense of belongingness in one group (Brown, 1988). The five variables play an important role in the social aspect part to determine the motivation towards exercising. There is hypothesis on the five variables; common fate, mutual benefit, social structure, group processes, and self-categorization have a definite connection to the self-report regarding the devotion in an exercising activities (Spink, Wilson, & Priebe, 2010). There are four evidences that support this hypothesis. Previous research conducted by Massie & Shephard (1971) showed that the attendance is higher in group-based exercise programs than individual or family ones. Steers & Rhodes (1978) found out that there is a different type of adherence; energy expenditure can be seen in individual that more apprehend on group aspects in their structured exercise assembly. Furthermore, groupness can be considered to be related to adherence in exercise programs as members show more interest in remaining in a group through the cohesion mechanism that aid in fasten peoples together (Fraser & Spink, 2002).

Another factor that motivates exercising is exercising with the presence of friends. This happens especially in low-self monitoring individuals. The character that friend act in a person’s life is significant as considered in the amount of time spend, variability of activities and role that friend can play. By viewing in this context, the fact that friend plays an important role in an individual’s lives cannot be deny. It is an important matter to choose a compatible friend to engage in social activities particularly in exercising. Some knowledge and skills on the appropriate way to perform the activities is useful if all of these own by the friend (Synder, Gangestad, & Simpson, 1983).

The exercise that carry out seem to be much more easier if one is accompanied by friend that displayed competence and expertise in performing particular activities (Synder, Gangestad, & Simpson, 1983). One that is get motivated will do more effort in displaying his or her competency and expertise and act in a suitable way in carry out certain exercise because of the opportunity that he or she received from friend that considered specialist in an activity (Synder, Gangestad, & Simpson, 1983). There is also fact that friend will affect one in exercise through the mindset, affection, and choice towards partner that one will carry out physical activities with (Synder, Gangestad, & Simpson, 1983). The extent to which a person shows his or her liking towards the partner will influence a person in engaging in an activity. There are people who look for coherence between their attitude and course of action in real life. In this case, people particularly in low-self monitoring person will be more likely to spend their time with their preferred partner. Correspond to this; the person will increase their approach towards specific peoples in their social circle and also their behavioral preference in the activities with those that they preferred (Synder, Gangestad, & Simpson, 1983). There are some differences between high-self monitoring and low-self monitoring people in selecting their social partner. In general, the presence of friend is substantial in boosting the attitude in engaging social activities like exercise. Belza, Walwick, Schwartz, LoGerfo, Shiu-Thornton, Taylor (2004), conducted their study on 71 adults (42 females and 29 males) with their mean age being 71.6 years old on seven groups that differ in ethnicity and their mother-tongue in America such as the African American, American Indian, Native Alaskan, etc where almost 35 of them exercise on a regular basis. The participants were asked on what drove them to exercise (eg: wellbeing looks, able to hang around with people and so on). They found that most the participants believe that they exercise because they it benefits them both in the social aspect and health purposes (to manage constant conditions such as ache, high blood pressure, arthritis and high glucose level in the blood). He also found that when a person’s overall motivation (social and personal) drops, his or her bodily activity level drops as well. This study is done to investigate whether personal factors or social factors contribute more motivation to exercise.

Theory of self-efficacy, which states that the more individuals believe in their ability to perform a course of action and in the positive outcomes of those actions, the more likely they will be to initiate and persist in a given activity (Bandura, 1997). Bandura (1997) describes four sources of information that influence self-efficacy expectations (and presumably outcome expectations) and consequently actual behavior: performance of the activity, verbal encouragement from others, exposure to role models, and physiological feedback or physical sensations experienced during the activity. In a study aimed at establishing what aspects of self-efficacy theory helped initiate and engage in regular exercise, and what decreased the willingness to exercise, a total of 148 older adults from 12 Senior Centers participated, with the majority of the participants being female African American. Findings support the use of the theory of self-efficacy to change behavior among minority older adults. In this study, the extrinsic incentives were emphasized to motivate the participants. The motivational component of the program included verbal encouragement and goal setting with small incentive gifts for goal achievement, cueing to exercise through the use of written material and calendars, and role modeling of exercise through exposure to the lay exercise leader and other group members. The participants in this study specifically recognized the importance of social supports as a source of motivation to exercise. The participants reported that it was “laziness” that prevented them from exercising, and they needed the group interaction to motivate them to come to exercise class. This external force helped participants to rekindle old exercise habits, to initiate an exercise program, or to increase the amount of exercise they did. This study was limited in that it included only older adults who volunteered to participate in an exercise program and regularly attended senior centers (Luisi et al., 2006).



Data was collected from 27th up to 31st January 2011. There were 130 subjects (51 males and 79 females) who filled the survey completely. The age range was from 18 to 65 years old and the mean age was 22.669 years old. The data was consisting of 58 Malay, 17 Chinese, 21 Indians, and 34 participants from other race such as; Korean, African, Sikh, Arabian, Pakistani and Mauritanian. We also asked their perspective of their body weight by rating the scale which provided inside the demographic (refer to appendix B). We did a convenience sampling survey in Petaling Jaya and Johor. Refer to table 1.
















Perspective of body weight




































The survey questions were adapted from The Exercise Motivation Inventory (Markland and Hardy, 1993) questionnaire. However, we selected and modified some of the questions. In total, there was 20 Questions inside our survey which contained of 10 Social Factor question and 10 Personal Factor Question. This survey used a 5 scale; Not Important=1, Less Important= 2, Neutral=3, Moderately important=4, and Very Important=5. The measurement was appropriate for our study because it was not only asking people who do any exercise regularly such as fitness but also for people who do not regularly exercise. The questionnaire was referring to healthiness, diet and body shape, and environment relation. Furthermore, EMI is suitable to be assigned to younger (at least 18 years old) and older people.


First, we developed the survey and delivered it to course instructor. After receiving the approval we then can started collecting the data. The participants were asked by the researchers to fill the survey voluntarily. After they agreed, they were given a consent form and the survey form. All information about this study was clearly written down on the consent form. It took approximately 10 minutes to fill the survey and participants may withdraw from the study anytime when they feel unsecure or disturbed. After they fully filled the survey, they may give it back to the researchers and leave. We found some problems while collecting the data, some of the subjects refuse to join this study because they do not understand the English language properly, they needed to go to their next class, below the minimum age or just refused to participate without any reason.


To investigate the relationship between types of motivation and level of motivation, a Paired Sample T-Test was used. As seen in Table 2, there is a significant relationship between types of motivation and level of motivation, t (129) = 8.479, p < .001, mean for personal factors=...., and mean for social factors=..... Personal factors contribute more motivation to exercise compared to social factors.

Table 2

Mean Differences Between Personal Factors and Social Factors that motivate Exercising

Variable Mean df t

Personal Factors

Social Factors

Older Adult Perspectives on Physical Activity and Exercise: Voices From Multiple Cultures

Basia Belza, PhD, RN, Julie Walwick, MSW, Sheryl Schwartz, PhD, James LoGerfo, MD, MPH, Sharyne Shiu-Thornton, PhD, and Mary Taylor, BSN, RN (2004)

Bouchard, C., Blair, S. N., & Haskell, W. L. (2007). Physical activity and

health. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Dishman, R.K., Hales, D.P., Pfeiffer, K.A., Felton,G., Saunders,R., Ward, D.S., Dowda,M. and Pate, R.R. (2006). Physical Self-Concept and Self-Esteem Mediate Cross-Sectional Relations of Physical Activity and Sports Participation With Depression Symptoms Among Adolescent Girls. Health Psychology, 25(3), 396-407.

Ekeland,E., Heian, F., & Hagen, K.B.(2005). Can exercise improve se;f-esteem in children and young people? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 792-798.

Hornby, A.S.(2005). Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press.

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