Motivations for Participation in Physical Activity Across the Lifespan

James Gavin, Matthew Keough, Michael Abravanel, Tatiana Moudrakovski, Madeleine Mcbrearty


This investigation explored motivations for engaging in physical activity and how they varied across the lifespan. A total of 1,885 individuals completed a comprehensive questionnaire concerning personal style, activity interests, motives for exercising, and biosocial information as part of an initiative to improve physical activity advisement and programming. The first part of the research called for an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) of a 20-item measure of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations related to participation in exercise, while the second was based in an analysis of differences on the EFA factor scores across five age groups: teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s+. EFA results suggested a four-factor (oblique rotation) solution that appeared to provide an adequate and generalizable map of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for exercise. The factors were labeled as follows: mental toughness, toned and fit, fun and friends, and stress reduction. Not surprisingly, mean scores on toned and fit were the highest of the four factor means across all age groups. Univariate ANOVAs of age group differences were statistically significant for each of the four factors; moreover, all four factors showed statistically significant linear trends. Two factors, toned and fit and stress reduction, revealed higher motivation scores with increasing age, while the remaining two, mental toughness and fun and friends, exhibited declining scores with increasing age. These findings taken in the context of previous research on age-related motivational differences offered insights into current challenges for enhancing exercise participation, particularly for older individuals.


lifespan, age differences, physical activity, exercise motivation, exploratory factor analysis

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