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Personal fulfillment may motivate adolescents to be physically active

Adolescents are most likely to report personal fulfillment as the strongest motivation to be physically active.

Personal fulfillment motivation should be considered when designing physical activity promotion programs for youth, according to a study in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Ensuring that youth are physically active is essential for their physical and emotional health. But rates of physical activity are low among youth and decline during adolescence, according to background information in the article. To increase physical activity among youth, motivations to be physically active must be understood more clearly. Katie Haverly, M.S., and Kirsten Krahnstoever Davison, Ph.D., of the State University of New York at Albany, conducted a cross-sectional study to identify factors that motivate adolescents to be physically active, and to assess the links between activity motivation and physical activity. (Ms. Haverly is now with the Department of Health Education and Health Behavior, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.) A total of 202 students (92 girls, mean age 12.5 years; and 110 boys, mean age 12.7 years) at a middle school in rural central Pennsylvania took part in the study. The researchers assessed differences in motivators for groups at risk for physical inactivity – including girls vs. boys, overweight vs. non-overweight youth, and youth with low vs. high perceived sport competence.

“In this study, four sources of motivation were identified: personal fulfillment motivation (e.g., enjoyment, wanting to be fit), weight-based motivation (e.g., wanting to lose weight), parent-influenced motivation (e.g., parents want them to), and peer-influenced motivation (e.g., social activity with friends, to be like the popular kids at school),” the authors write.

“Adolescents were most likely to report personal fulfillment as the strongest motivating factor for physical activity, followed by weight-based motivation, peer motivation, and parent motivation,” they report.

Overweight adolescents reported significantly higher weight-based motivation, compared with those who were not overweight. Adolescents with low perceived sport competence reported significantly lower personal fulfillment motivation, compared with those with higher perceived sport competence.

“Personal fulfillment was the most readily endorsed motivation to be active among all participants regardless of risk status, and was the only motivation that was consistently associated with significantly higher levels of self-reported physical activity,” the authors write. “Results from this study suggest that personal fulfillment motivation could be used as a basis for physical activity promotion programs for youth and that this strategy may be effective for all youth regardless of their risk status.” (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159:1115-1120. Available pre-embargo to the media at

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