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Want Your Exercise To Be Successful? Be More Confident


Are you among the 50 percent of people who start an exercise program and then quit within six months? Don’t despair: your exercise can be successful if you are more confident, according to a new study from the University of Illinois (UI).

Increase your confidence and you’ll keep exercising

You don’t have time, you’re too tired, you’re bored—people have many excuses for not exercising or sticking with an exercise program. But researchers under the guidance of UI kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley report that the key to being successful with your exercise routine is to be confident you can do it, a quality they call “self-efficacy.”

The good news is, if keeping up your exercise program is a challenge you are finding impossible to overcome, there are ways you can increase your confidence. From their observations, the investigators noted that people who have specific goals, recall successes from their past, seek out others to help support their exercise efforts, and observe individuals who are tackling challenging tasks can increase self-efficacy.

The investigators arrived at their conclusions after studying 177 men and women aged 60 to early 70s. All the study volunteers were questioned about if and how often they established goals for themselves, monitored their progress, managed their time, and participated in other “self-regulatory” activities. Cognitive tests that measured spatial memory, the ability to multitask, and the ability to inhibit undesirable responses were also administered to the volunteers.

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After the testing was completed, the volunteers were randomly assigned to one of two groups that met three times a week for one year: a walking program or a stretching/toning/balance routine. After the first three weeks of the study, the researchers assessed the volunteers’ self-efficacy.

Both the ability to multitask and to inhibit undesirable responses were significantly associated with staying with one’s exercise program by increasing self-confidence. Participants who more frequently set goals, managed their time, asked others for support, and monitored their progress were more likely to continue exercising and to be more confident.

According to McAuley, their findings can be used “to identify who might be poor adherers to an exercise program, and then offer those people an array of different coping skills and strategies to inhibit or overcome bad behaviors.” Providing these skills can be especially helpful for older adults, for whom aerobic exercise such as walking and dancing can improve cognitive and brain functions and increase self-efficacy, which in turn can reinforce their exercise efforts.

Applying this concept of increasing one’s confidence can be applied to other health behaviors as well, noted McAuley, “because in many ways that really is what gets us through the day.” He explained that “people who are more efficacious tend to approach more challenging tasks, work harder and stick with it even in the face of early failures.”

University of Illinois

Photo credit: Edward McAuley