Jill M. Matthys and Christopher D. Lantz
Health and Exercise Science, Truman State University, Kirksville, MO
Original Publication Information:
IAHPERD Journal Volume 31. No.2 Spring, 1998.
Sport and exercise psychologists continue to explore the factors which motivate persons to exercise at levels which result in increased physical and psychological health. This research has led to the identification of several factors which contribute to exercise adherence. Intrinsic motivation, levels of enjoyment and family perceptions of exercise have all been linked to increased commitment to routine exercise activity
(Brustad, 1996; Kimiciek & Harris, 1996). In addition, the use of goal setting and other cognitive techniques also appear to facilitate greater compliance to the exercise program (Dzewaltowski, 1994).
Although these factors are strong contributors toward exercise adherence, a positive attitude toward exercise may be the primary determinant of a physically active lifestyle (Terry, 1996). Allport (1947) introduced the classic definition of attitude as a "mental and neural state of readiness, organized through experiences, exerting a direct or dynamic influence upon the individual's response to all objects and situations with which it is related" (p. 805). Attitudes are directed toward attitude objects, such as classes of people, objects, or ideas. Thus if a person has a positive attitude toward physical fitness, behavior should reflect this attitude (Gill, 1986).
Attitude is socially developed and modified using direct contact with the variable in question (Halloran, 1967). This suggests that if a person maintained a negative attitude toward exercise but was then required to participate in a routine physical activity program, preconceived notions toward exercise may be changed. However, such research has not been conducted. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine if participation in required physical activity modes would enhance attitudes toward exercise.
One hundred fifty-six (53 = males, 103 = females) undergraduates were obtained from university-required health and wellness courses which required routine physical activity. A control group (n = 19) of sedentary college students was obtained from a general history course at the same university.
Attitudes toward participation in routine physical exercise were assessed using the Attitude Towards Physical Activity Questionnaire (ATPA) (Kenyon, 1968). The ATPA contains 50 items with responses on a five point Likert scale. The ATPA is scored by summing subjects' responses for all items resulting in scores ranging from 50 to 250. High ATPA scores indicate that the subject has a positive perception of physical activity.
The exercise group completed ATPA before and after participating in a eight week required activity class. Participants were permitted to select the activity of their choice. Activities chosen included aerobic dance (n = 27), swimming (n = 24),
run/walk/jog (n = 10), free weights (n = 14), and nautilus (n = 34). The control group of non- exercisers completed the ATPA over the same time period. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects.
Means and standard deviations of participants responses to the ATPA are provided in Table 1.
A 2 x 6 (gender x activity) ANOVA on subjects' change scores (post test - pre test) revealed no significant interaction and no significant main effects. Interestingly, the greatest improvement in attitude was demonstrated in the sedentary control group
t(18) = 1.87, p = .07.
Table 1. Resopnses To APTA.
Pre X Pre SD Post X Post SD Male Aerobics 182.31 17.89 200.21 16.58 Swimming 198.40 23.42 194.40 33.10 Run/Walk 207.83 17.43 217.17 29.20 Weights 185.13 20.12 192.38 15.66 Nautilus 189.14 12.29 191.57 10.37 Female Aerobics 203.44 16.11 203.92 18.50 Swimming 206.06 19.11 209.83 19.76 Run/Walk 205.78 17.92 208.34 17.29 Weights 203.83 12.95 201.33 14.38 Nautilus 206.70 17.66 210.93 23.07 CONTROL 201.54 23.11 210.31 29.29
The results of this study fail to support previous research linking positive attitude change with participation in that activity. In contrast to commonly held beliefs, it may be that requiring individuals to engage in physical activity does not ensure greater affinity for physical activity in a required, supervised instruction setting.
One variable which must be considered when attempting to understand these results is the temporal proximity of the questionnaire administration. In the current study, data were collected immediately after completing the eight-week required health and wellness course. The benefits of exercising may not be realized by persons immediately following a required exposure to the activity. For example, Pearman, Valois, Sargent, Saunders, Drane and Macera (1997) using a cross-sectional sample of alumni
(5 to 10 years post graduation) found that participation in this type of course positively influenced their attitude toward exercise. Therefore, there may need to be an intervening time period during which the person internalizes the information presented and thereby formulates his/her attitude toward exercise.
A potentially influential variable which was not examined in this study was the effectiveness of the individual exercise teachers/supervisors. The attitude toward exercise maintained by instructors may influence the attitude of the students. In this study, students were not asked to rate their perception of instructor enthusiasm or interest. Another factor that may have influenced the outcome of this study is the limited range of exercise modes usually offered in required health and wellness courses. Typically these types of courses offer individual activities such as running, aerobic dance, swimming, and weight training. Students may demonstrate better attitudes, effort, and adherence if they are also given the option of some team sport activities as well.
Certainly, continued evaluation of the effectiveness of required health and wellness classes in promoting life-long patterns of physical activity is warranted. Research by Pearman and colleagues (1997) has indicated that persons who took such courses were more likely to know their blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and recommended dietary fat intake. Given the potential for long-term benefits from participating in these types of courses, strategies encouraging early incorporation of the information and activities into student lifestyles should be developed.
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