Forming a Physical Activity Habit

Scientists in the fields of psychology and neuroscience agree that behaviours are a result of both conscious and non-conscious processes1,2. We know that someone’s intention to be physically active (a conscious process) doesn’t fully predict their resulting behaviour and therefore it is presumable that non-conscious processes, like a physical activity habit and/or physical activity identity, can help to explain the missing piece3. Non-conscious processes can also contribute to preserving time that may have been allocated to self-regulatory strategies, such as planning and self-monitoring. In this blog, we will dive a bit deeper into what exactly a physical activity habit is.

When you hear about a habit, likely the first thing that comes to mind is that a habit is a behaviour you do regularly. Perhaps someone might say they are in the habit of going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 7am every night and morning. But when it comes to the realm of health psychology, a habit is actually a learned and automatic association between a cue and a behaviour 4. Basically, this means that when some sort of cue presents in your day, you will have an automatic tendency or impulse to enact a behaviour. A habit is developed over time where a certain cue is repeatedly followed by a behaviour, and over time the cue starts to elicit an automatic impulse to enact that behaviour. For example, every morning upon waking, without putting much thought into it, you might immediately go to brush your teeth. This is a result of brushing your teeth upon waking over and over again (as well as perhaps many reminders from your dentist!).

Frequent instances of cues that are followed by behaviours will result in stronger habits.

Additional factors that have shown to be important in developing cue-behaviour associations are 1) the complexity of the behaviour, 2) the environment, and 3) the level of enjoyment in the activity5.

So with regards to physical activity, we can probably think of certain types of exercise, for example playing certain sports or weight lifting,  that might be more complex for some individuals compared to others. That said, after an individual is taught how to do a certain exercise and performs it several times, that exercise will probably become easier. We can also think of certain environments that we are more or less comfortable exercising in. For example, some individuals may prefer exercising outdoors for the fresh air while others prefer the gym so they can predictably avoid weather perturbations. You may remember from one of our earlier blog posts that people are generally more likely to be physically active if they enjoy the exercise they are doing rather than if they’re just doing it because they think it’s good for them. Well, it turns out, doing exercise that you enjoy is also important for developing physical activity habits! This is because behaviours that are unenjoyable will impose motivational push-back (thoughts about not really enjoying the behaviour before enacting it). Negative thoughts can break the learning sequence, making it much harder to form any type of cue-behaviour response. As a result, we will be dependent on motivational will-power to do the behaviour, despite these negative thoughts.

You may be wondering just how frequently you have to experience a cue-behaviour until it develops into a habit. Well, research has shown that in new gym-goers, it took about 6-weeks of exercising 4-times a week to develop a physical activity habit5.

Taking things a bit further, it’s proposed that physical activity habit formation occurs through two phases: instigation and execution. This is because exercise itself is somewhat of a complex behaviour that takes a good chunk of time and effort to execute (compared to brushing your teeth for example). So for the case of developing a physical activity habit, we are more so referring to the instigation component, as this is more automatic, rather than the execution component, which requires a bit more conscious control6. Basically developing an exercise instigation habit means we have developed a tunnel vision towards enacting an intention for physical activity, which shields us from opposing automatic tendencies7.

So what steps can we take in developing a physical activity habit? Think of a cue that you can plan to regularly link with being active. For example, you might choose a cue of eating dinner to indicate that you should go for an evening walk. You want the cue to be something that happens regularly and occurs prior to when you want to be exercising to maximize the cue-behaviour learning. The more consistent you are active following this cue, the more likely you will develop a physical activity habit. The next piece is to think about the right type of physical activity for you, it should be an exercise that isn’t too difficult (although if you are motivated to learn something new that is fine as well, just make sure to break it down into to easy steps in the beginning), it should be something you enjoy doing, and choose an environment that you know you will feel comfortable to regularly perform the exercise.


  1. Bargh JA, Ferguson MJ. Beyond behaviorism: On the automaticity of higher mental processes. Psychological Bulletin. 2000;126(6):925-945. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.126.6.925
  2. Heatherton TF, Wagner DD. Cognitive neuroscience of self-regulation failure. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2011;15(3):132-139. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2010.12.005
  3. Rhodes RE, Dickau L. Experimental evidence for the intention–behavior relationship in the physical activity domain: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology. 2012;31(6):724-727. doi:10.1037/a0027290
  4. Gardner B. A review and analysis of the use of ‘habit’ in understanding, predicting and influencing health-related behaviour. Health Psychology Review. 2015;9(3):277-295. doi:10.1080/17437199.2013.876238
  5. Kaushal N, Rhodes RE. Exercise habit formation in new gym members: a longitudinal study. J Behav Med. 2015;38(4):652-663. doi:10.1007/s10865-015-9640-7
  6. Rhodes RE, Rebar AL. Physical Activity Habit: Complexities and Controversies. In: Verplanken B, ed. The Psychology of Habit. Springer International Publishing; 2018:91-109. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-97529-0_6
  7. Rhodes RE, La H, Quinlan A, Grant SJ. Enacting physical activity intention: Multi-process action control. In: Motivation and Self-Regulation in Sport and Exercise. Taylor & Francis; 2021:8-20.

Monitoring Your Progress Part 2

Moving right along to our second blog of feedback and monitoring! In our last blog post, we talked a bit about self-regulation and two strategies to enhance our self-control and the likelihood of meeting our physical activity goals. In this blog post, as previously mentioned, we will describe the proceeding two strategies.

The reality is that even if we buy home exercise equipment and leave our running shoes at the front door, there are going to be times that we still don’t follow through with our physical activity goals. For example, maybe we’re just tired from a long day at work or woke up on the wrong side of the bed for an unknown reason and just don’t feel like exercising. This is where the other two strategies come into play.

The following strategies are known as intrapsychic strategies because they help us overcome cognitive or emotional barriers that may get in the way of our pursuit of physical activity goals1. The first one is called an attention-deployment strategy which basically means we are maintaining focus on the intended actions. For example, being conscious of our temptations (i.e., just wanting to come home from work and relax on the couch) is actually beneficial because if we notice our feelings of temptation to relax and watch Netflix, we will be less likely to mindlessly enact upon them to satisfy our immediate desire.

Of course, there are times when noticing and consciously avoiding our temptations isn’t possible and this is where we can use cognitive-change strategies to reframe our undesired temptations and increase the chances of acting on behaviours that build towards our long term goals1. For example, we can think of our couch as a comfortable place to watch Netflix or we can reframe it as an item that is next to impossible to get off of once we’re on it. Another example would be in the moment asking ourselves “why” we are doing something rather than “how” we are doing it. This puts the focus of actions more towards our long-term goals.

Well there you have it, these are two intrapsychic strategies that you can employ in the moment to help you overcome temptations and impulses that thwart your physical activity goals. Recent evidence shows that interventions targeting such attention control and cognitive changes are efficacious in increasing physical activity2. Stay tuned for our next couple of blog posts where we will be discussing the reflexive processes of habit and self-identity in regards to physical activity behaviour.

*References/Further Reading

  1. Duckworth, A. L., Gendler, T. S., & Gross, J. J. (2016). Situational Strategies for Self-Control. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(1), 35–55.

  2. Pears, S., & Sutton, S. (2021). Effectiveness of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) interventions for promoting physical activity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Psychology Review, 15(1), 159–184.

Monitoring Your Progress Part 1

As promised, today we will be discussing the importance of reflecting on and assessing your progress towards your physical activity goals. Basically, now that you have a plan and have started executing your plan, after a period of time you will want to check in with yourself to see how that plan is going. This process is known as self-regulation, which is broadly defined as taking action in moving towards a goal and monitoring your progress along the way1. Monitoring your progress is one of the most important strategies you can perform to stay on course2.

In our last blog we spoke about strategizing to overcome barriers that get in the way of meeting your physical activity goals. This process will help to develop self-control and involves resolving conflict between competing goals. Our example from the last blog involved resolving the conflict between motivation to exercise after work while faced with feeling hungry. Another example might be staying home to watch a recently released episode of your favourite Netflix show (short-term reward) rather than going to the gym to fulfill your long-term goal of gaining muscular strength.

There are four key strategies that we are going to describe to help you optimize your self-control3. In order to be most successful, the four strategies should be employed as early as possible upon setting your goal. The first is a situation selection strategy. This involves choosing an environment that will favour accomplishing your physical activity goals. For example, if you don’t have time to go to a gym several times a week, you could invest in a yoga mat and free weights that you can workout with at home. Another example would be agreeing with a friend or colleague that you are going to commit to exercising together on a consistent basis.

Of course there are cases where it isn’t possible to modify your environment and this is where the second strategy comes in, called situation-modification. This is where, instead of choosing a specific environment, you would modify your environment to better suit your goals. For example, you can select and organize prompts and cues that optimize your likelihood of following through with your goals. An example of this would be leaving your running shoes at the front door so they are the first thing you see when you arrive home from work and remind you that you need to get your evening jog in before settling down with Netflix. Another example might be a wearable reminds you to be active throughout the day to encourage you towards meeting your goals.

We will leave you with those two strategies to think about before we move on to the next blog to introduce the other ones. Right now would be a good time to think about how you can change or modify your environment that will help to set you up with success!

*References/Further Reading

  1. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1998). On the Self-Regulation of Behavior. Cambridge, Univ. Press.
  2. Michie, S., Abraham, C., Whittington, C., McAteer, J., & Gupta, S. (2009). Effective techniques in healthy eating and physical activity interventions: A meta-regression. Health Psychology, 28(6), 690–701.
  3. Duckworth, A. L., Gendler, T. S., & Gross, J. J. (2016). Situational Strategies for Self-Control. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(1), 35–55.

Want to be a Master Planner?

Hey hard worker! If you’ve been following along on the M-PAC journey, you know that we’ve entered what we like to call the “endeavour” layer, which is all about doing the hard work to translate our intentions into behaviours. Ideally you’ve set a goal and now you want to start working towards that goal. One way to endeavour is to actively plan for how you will incorporate your target behaviour. Today we will get into the nitty-gritty about how to do so!

It is important to preface this week’s topic: people often have a love-hate relationship with planning. There are those who LOVE planning in all its forms and those who prefer to be more “spontaneous”. Fortunately, this post will actually be relevant for both types of people!

The thing is, although planning sounds obvious and perhaps a bit boring, it is EFFECTIVE. So although this isn’t a new and exciting strategy, it is something that really works in getting people more physically active. You see, we are all extremely busy in our own ways, and unless we plan for physical activity and really carve out the time for it in our hectic schedule, it’s just not going to happen. So get your calendars ready…

First thing is first, ensure you have a really solid goal for physical activity formed (check out this post for more details). Once you’ve developed a goal, find a form of planning that works for you. Perhaps you find the calendar on your smartphone most convenient, or maybe you have an awesome app. Maybe you prefer an old school paper planner or monthly calendar on the wall! The trick is to plan in the way that works best for you.

Okay now let’s get planning! Our first recommendation is to plan for the steps leading up to the actual behaviour. Stay with me – if for example your goal is to go for 3 weekly vigorous walks during your lunch break, you might need to pack a change of clothes and some toiletries to freshen up afterwards. Start by identifying which days you’ll need to pack these supplies and develop a system for doing so. For example your plan might be “on Monday through Wednesday I will pack my supplies in my backpack before leaving for work in the morning”.

Next, be sure to be really specific with your plans. For example, don’t come up with a vague plan to “go for a run this week”. Instead, think of when, where, and how you will go for your run as this type of planning has been shown to be effective in facilitating follow-through1. You’d be much better off to plan for a run with your bestie on Tuesday at 5pm on the trail near your home.

One useful strategy is to identify scenarios or cues that you can then link to physical activity2. By identifying a situation we encounter regularly and deciding how we can link it to physical activity we may be more likely to turn our intentions into actions. For example, you could say “if I just finished work, then I will put on my running shoes and go for a walk”.

Another important form of planning is to make contingencies for when you encounter barriers. In other words, in the face of expected difficulties, you’ll want to have back up plans on reserve to increase your chances of success. This process can be really simple. Take a few minutes to brainstorm challenges that could potentially thwart your physical activity and come up with a strategy to overcome each obstacle. For example, I know I often don’t feel like exercising after work because I’m hungry. Subsequently, my plan might look like “when I’m hungry after work I will buy a granola bar then go straight to the gym”.

The last hot tip is to make a reboot plan. Sometimes (actually lots of the time), despite great plans and the best of intentions, we fail. It is important to set aside time to reflect on all your planning efforts (outlined above) and recognize when things aren’t working. Perhaps an adjustment or re-set may be required. Setting a weekly or biweekly plan to check in on your goals and plans and make some tweaks might just be the ticket keeping you on track.

Planning is an on-going process, but to make you feel better about this prospect, we’ve relayed lots of tools to help you become a “master planner” (which we think is a pretty cool title). Stay tuned, as our next topic will help you reflect and assess on your progress towards your goals.

*References/Further Reading

  1. Carraro, N., & Gaudreau, P. (2013). Spontaneous and experimentally induced action planning and coping planning for physical activity: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14, 228-248.
  2. Hagger, M. S., Luszczynska, A., de Wit, J., Benyamini, Y., Burkert, S., Chamberland, P. E., . . . Gollwitzer, P. M. (2016). Implementation intention and planning interventions in Health Psychology: Recommendations from the Synergy Expert Group for research and practice. Psychology & health, 31, 814-839.
  3. Rhodes, R. E., Grant, S., & De Bruijn, G. J. (in press). Planning and Implementation Intention Interventions. In M. S. Hagger, L. D. Cameron, K. Hamilton, N. Hankonen & T. Lintunen (Eds.), Handbook of Behavior Change. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Schwarzer, R. (2016). Coping planning as an intervention component: A commentary. Psychology & health, 31, 903-906.
  5. Sniehotta, F. F., Schwarzer, R., Scholz, U., & Schuz, B. (2005). Action planning and coping planning for long-term lifestyle change: Theory and assessment. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 565-576.

How to Set Stellar Goals

Have you officially decided you’re going to try to get more active? Congrats! Now that you’ve formed an intention, you can start getting strategic about how to incorporate more physical activity. The next series of posts are going to be dedicated to helping you form a kind of “toolkit”. We’re going to provide tangible and tactical advice to support you as you take charge of your physical activity behaviour.

First, we want to review our journey thus far. We’ve talked about why physical activity is worth it, how to build confidence and create opportunities, as well as why and how to build a support system. We even touched on the intention-behaviour gap, which in essence indicates that intention is not enough and we need techniques to help with follow-through. This is where the “endeavour” layer of the M-PAC framework comes in. It’s all about setting yourself up for success by using self-regulation skills (which is a fancy way of saying the processes by which you manage challenges and setbacks and keep yourself on task).

To help you build a strong foundation for your endeavouring, a great place to start is goal setting. While goal setting may not necessarily be a new or groundbreaking idea, it really is a fundamentally important place to start if you are trying to change a behaviour. This is because goals give us direction, allow us to gauge how much energy we need to devote to the task, provide a means for feedback and change, and ultimately help us perform. In short, they help organize us and get us going. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that we can expect to experience a healthy dose of pride and triumph when we meet said goals! Sounds pretty good, right? Hopefully you’re convinced, but if you need more persuading there is compelling evidence that goal setting does indeed have an effect on behaviour1-4.

Let’s rewind and start with the conceptual basis of goal setting. Put simply, a goal is is an object or aim of an action and goal setting is the process whereby we decide what we want to accomplish and begin working towards that end.  Research in the physical activity domain suggests that setting a goal – any goal – is effective for promoting physical activity, indicating that the process of goal setting is an extremely important factor for increasing physical activity5.

But how do you set a “good” goal? Well for starters, goals should be specific and difficult (check out this SMART goal infograph for more tips!). This means that while you may have a broad overarching goal of “getting more active” or “going to the gym’, you’ll want to stay away from these types of vague goals. Instead, structure your goals so they are explicit and achievable, yet sufficiently challenging. For example, “my goal is to go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 30 minutes” might be more suitable. Importantly, don’t set easy or tedious goals just for the sake of goal setting, because in the end they likely won’t work to motivate you. Finally, make sure that your goal is meaningful to you and aligned with an objective you truly value. Ideally you should be able to use your goals as an indicator of progress to see how far you’ve come and you should know when you’ve achieved your goal. Once you meet a few goals, you might just find you’re hooked!

In conclusion, setting stellar goals is a wonderful place to start your journey towards as active lifestyle. They will get you started, motivate you, and keep you working towards an aim2-4. Furthermore, they provide a great jumping off point for the strategies we will discuss in the future! Be sure to check back for more strategies to add to your toolbox for your journey towards a more active lifestyle.

*References/Further Reading

  1. Epton, T., Currie, S., & Armitage, C. (2017). Unique effects of setting goals on behavior change: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 85, 1182-1198.
  2. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  3. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57, 705-717.
  4. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 265-268.
  5. McEwan, D., Harden, S. M., Zumbo, B. D., Sylvester, B. D., Kaulius, M., Ruissen, G. R., . . . Beauchamp, M. R. (2016). The effectiveness of multi-component goal setting interventions for changing physical activity behaviour: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Psychology Review, 10, 67-88.
  6. Rhodes, R.E.(2017). The evolving understanding of physical activity behavior: A multi-process action control approach. In A. J. Elliot (Ed), Advances in Motivation Science. (pp. 171-205).

The Importance of Social Support for Physical Activity

How do our social lives impact our health? While we all have an innate need to belong and social interaction is no doubt a necessity, it can also have complex consequences. I think we can all agree that those we surround ourselves with greatly influence what we do and how we act. I for one recognize that those around me affect what I eat, how much I move, and also how much I sit. In other words, the people in our lives impact our behaviours, both unhealthy and healthy. We will be focusing on the latter of course…

This is where social support comes in! Social support is the feeling of being cared for by others and having people to meet your wants, needs, and goals. Unsurprisingly, having sufficient social support can positively affect our health behaviours. For example, having a support system can make it easier to begin and continue engaging in physical activity. Indeed, research suggests that those who receive more social support are able to engage in more physical activity.

While social support can take many forms, there are two main types that are emphasized in M-PAC. M-PAC posits that companionship social support can influence our enjoyment, while practical social support can impact our perception of opportunity. These are important motivational factors, and when we have social support in place, it can really help us to decide to get more active.

Let’s start with companionship support. This is often what we think of when we think of social support. It fulfills a sense of social belonging and helps us feel part of a group. Put another way, companionship helps us feel connected which is otherwise known as the need for relatedness. Often this comes from shared activities. Without a doubt, partaking in activities with others can enrich our enjoyment (read more on fostering physical activity enjoyment here). I know that personally, I enjoy a walk or run far more if I have company! If I know I have someone to share something with, I will be more motivated to do it.

Tangible support may seem obvious: it includes concrete ways you can be assisted such as services or material goods. This could mean your partner offering to make dinner so you can go for a walk or a family member watching your child so you can get to your workout. Tangible support is really crucial, as it creates opportunities for us to fit in some physical activity. In order to manage our busy lives, some concrete help from others is a must as it creates valuable space in our schedule to take care of our body.

Fortunately, it is possible to actively build a support network. The first step is to identify the important people in your support system who you think you could rely on (think friends, family, your partner, or even neighbours!). Next it is helpful to reflect on the areas you need help with and identify what people could do to help you. For example, maybe you need childcare in order to get your physical activity in, and two hours of childminding would go a long way. Maybe you’d be more motivated to go for a walk if you had a friend to go with. Finally, identify who you can entrust to fill these specific areas of needs. Maybe your partner can watch your child while your best friend can provide companionship and be your gym buddy. Start developing your support system and remember it is okay to ask for help!

I think we can all agree that for most things it takes a village…physical activity is no different, and we need support to succeed. Bear in mind that it would be extremely difficult and unlikely to change a major behaviour such as physical activity without help from loved ones. So learn to lean on your people! Remember there will be times you can help them in return…after all, social connections are a two way street, so be sure to help your friends and family enable their health when possible.

Check back next week as we will start chatting about how to take charge of physical activity and really start incorporating it. The next phase of M-PAC is all about endeavouring and managing challenges. The first tangible strategy we will discuss is how to plan for physical activity!

References/Further Reading

Bauman, A., Reis, R. S., Sallis, J. F., Wells, J. C., Loos, R. J. F., Martin, B. W., & Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group (2012). Correlates of physical activity: why are some people physically active and others not? The Lancet, 380, 258-271.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

M. R. Beauchamp & M. A. Eys (Eds.), Group Dynamics in Exercise and Sport Psychology (second ed., pp. 203-221). New York: Routledge.

How to Create Opportunities for Physical Activity

For this month’s topic, I immediately thought who better to seek advice from than our very own Alison Quinlan. She is a long-standing member of our research team and I can quite honestly say I can’t think of anyone who finds more ways to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine. While I’m sure her dedication to an active lifestyle is a combination of several factors, I truly believe she is a master at creating opportunities for physical activity. Below is an interview with the amazing and always inspiring Alison…

Who are you, what do you do, and why is leading an active lifestyle important to you?

Thanks for inviting me to speak on a topic I am so passionate about! I started working at the Behavioural Medicine Lab while pursuing my master’s in kinesiology at UVic a number of years ago and absolutely loved the research the lab was doing. I have always had a passion and curiosity towards the connection between lifestyle and health and recently returned to school to become a registered dietitian. I hope to combine my background in physical activity with nutrition in my work in the future.

Leading an active lifestyle is so important to me for a number of reasons. I think the biggest one is for my mental state. I find activity acts as a stress release and improves my overall mood. I also find living an active lifestyle benefits so many other areas of my life, such as helping me sleep at night, having more energy, and being more productive at work. I’ll be honest, there are times when I may not necessarily want to get out of bed in the morning to get in some activity or am feeling too tired later in the day and would rather read or watch TV, however, knowing how much better I will feel afterwards is almost always enough to get me out the door!

What are some strategies you use to fit physical activity into your workday?

I seek out any opportunity that I can to be active. I try and either wear active clothes and runners to work or pack them with me just in case there is an opportunity to go run some stairs or go for a power walk. I recently decided to park my car at my parent’s house out in Sidney to encourage me to bike more, so now I bike to and from work each day. I also try and make an effort to get outside for some exercise during the day and often will coordinate with another lab member to do a walking meeting or go run some stairs.  We are so fortunate here on the island in that we have easy access to great trails, running tracks, stairs to run, and beautiful scenery all of which are conducive to being physically active.

How do you think our lab culture influences your ability to be active at work?

Our lab culture plays a huge role in influencing my ability to be active and this is something I am extremely grateful for. For example, everyone is on the same page about the importance of physical activity and therefore it is always encouraged to get up and move. We all understand how valuable physical activity is for our productivity and overall well-being. There is gym equipment at our lab which we are encouraged to use and there always seems to be someone to go run some stairs with or just get outside for a quick power walk. I find having a supportive and encouraging environment to be physically active really influences my ability to be active during the workday.

What do you do to create active opportunities for yourself at home?

I have a few simple pieces of equipment at home such as a kettlebell and some free weights that I use if I am tight on time or if the weather is lousy. However, if I am being completely honest, I find it quite challenging to be active at home. Between my dog coming and pawing me or other people being around in the same room, it always seems to get interrupted. With that being said, I do incorporate some strategies at home that make it easier to be physically active. I have my bike accessible and tuned up so that I can easily hop on it at anytime. I lie my gym clothes out the night before if I am planning on getting in a morning workout so that I can get a few extra precious minutes of sleep. In our house we have a big whiteboard where we write up activities we want to do such as spikeball or tennis and we have these activities by the door ready to go. I also have a husky who is always letting me know to get up and take her for a walk!

What role do your friends and family play in your active lifestyle?

My family and friends play a huge role. My parents have always been active and really modelled a physically active lifestyle for my brother and I. In fact, my dad just completed his 20th marathon at the age of 67! My family has always encouraged me to be active without it ever being forced. I am very fortunate in that physical activity has always been portrayed as something fun to do.

My friends also play a huge role as they provide a strong social network to go do different activities with. We often arrange to meet up after work to go run stairs or jog along Dallas road or go to the gym. Scheduling activities with a friend definitely helps keep me accountable.

What are your top five tips for creating opportunities for physical activity?

-Find and create a social network of people who also like to be physically active and can support you. Having friends and family to go do activities with can help you stay on track when your motivation might be low.

-Build activities into your daily schedule such as walking to the grocery store or biking to work.

-Do activities you enjoy and keep them accessible. We keep our favourite equipment ready to go such as ensuring a basketball is always pumped up and our tennis racquets and tennis balls are by the door ready to grab and go.

-Set your exercise gear out the night before. Whether that be a packed gym bag ready to go in the morning, putting your runners out by the door or laying out a yoga mat.

-Take advantage of the amazing environment we live in! Go find a new set of stairs to run, check out a hike with a spectacular view at the top or go for a walk along the ocean.


As always, this interview with Ali did not disappoint. She is full of wisdom and great ideas for creating opportunities for physical activity. Above all, it is clear that she manages to make her environment conducive to physical activity in many ways! Based on her insights, it also seems social support is a key factor in her regular physical activity. This aligns with M-PAC which posits that intention formation is grounded in one’s appraisal of whether they have the time and access to perform physical activity. In other words, your perception of whether you have the opportunity for physical activity is an important motivational factor, and it is something that you can shape by restructuring your environment.

So in short, focus on ensuring your physical and social environment makes physical activity an easy choice. This can be achieved by making use of what your local neighbourhood has to offer, having grab and go activities handy, or keeping accessible equipment or pre-planned activities for busy days. Of equal importance is maintaining a physical activity support system. By sharing physical activity goals and practices with our colleagues, friends, and loved ones, not only do we hold each other accountable, we increase our connectedness all while improving our motivation to be active! Stay tuned for more on the importance of social support next month…

Further Reading

Bauman, A., Reis, R., Sallis, J., Wells, J., Loos, R., & Martin, B. (2012). Correlates of physical activity: why are some people physically active and others not? The Lancet, 380, 258-27.1

Beauchamp, M. R., & Eys, M. A. (Eds.), Group Dynamics in Exercise and Sport Psychology (second ed., pp. 203-221). New York: Routledge.

Kaushal, N. & Rhodes, R.E. (2014). The home physical environment and its relationship with physical activity and sedentary behavior: A systematic review. Preventative Medicine, 67, 221-237.

Sallis, J. F., Bull, F., Guthold, R., Heath, G. W., Inoue, S., Kelly, P., . . . Hallal, P. C. (2016). Progress in physical activity over the Olympic quadrennium. The Lancet, 388, 1325e1336.

Don’t Forget the Fun! How to Foster Physical Activity Enjoyment

Most of us know physical activity is good for us, yet few of us are engaging in enough of it. One of the reasons we are not always active is that we don’t necessarily enjoy physical activity. First off…it’s hard. It takes us out of our resting state and at our core we are creatures of comfort. Sure there are always some who crave a workout, but for the vast majority of people there are just other things we’d rather be doing. So unless we find physical activity somewhat enjoyable we may not necessarily translate our intentions into behaviours.

Interestingly, there is a bit of a paradox when it comes to physical activity enjoyment. There is a ton of variability around how people feel during physical activity, but the one thing everyone seems to agree on is they feel good when it’s done*. However, it is actually the feeling during physical activity that predicts whether we will continue to be active! So if you find physical activity unbearable it is unlikely you will return to it. Furthermore, research shows reasons to be active such as the anticipation of pleasant feeling states, enjoyment and fun (or what researchers call affective attitudes), will always win out over reasons to be active such as health outcomes like weight loss or disease prevention (what researchers call instrumental attitudes)*. Put another way, there is evidence that affective attitudes are larger predictors of physical activity participation than instrumental reasons*. Clearly, enjoyment of physical activity is really important! For these reasons, M-PAC posits that higher affective attitude is necessary for behavioural enactment*.

Thankfully, we have some power to shape how we feel about physical activity and it is possible to maximize our expectations of enjoyment. Of course, choosing an activity that makes sense and resonates for you is the first step. Other strategies for fostering physical activity enjoyment are outlined below.

Focus on partaking in physical activity in environments you enjoy. Choose places that you feel content, comfortable and capable. For instance, after years of unused gym memberships I have realized I am simply not a gym person. I don’t like the atmosphere, don’t feel comfortable nor competent there, and I certainly don’t look forward to attending. Unsurprisingly, I just don’t go! It took me some time to realize that perhaps the gym is not the best environment for me. Instead, I focus on doing physical activity in environments that I find rewarding or stimulating. For example, I love beach walks, hikes in the lush rainforest, or running around my beautiful city. If you’re thinking “I’m not an outdoors person” – I get it. In that case, find activities you can do indoors! Maybe there’s a bright and welcoming yoga studio you enjoy nearby. Perhaps you prefer the comfort of your own home. If so, honour that! Find a routine to do in a cozy area of your home. Just try your best to find an environment you ENJOY! Also keep in mind that minimizing stress and hassle beforehand (hello local walking route!) and rewarding yourself afterwards (e.g., socializing or a treat) can contribute to overall positive attitudes towards physical activity.

Next we will chat about the intensity of your physical activity. It is important to self-pace your activity and be mindful of how hard you make it. Although some may like a challenge, our bodies are designed to avoid displeasure and seek out pleasure (it’s an evolutionary thing). If your workout was way too hard it may be consciously and unconsciously affecting your motivation to do it again. It follows that a good strategy, especially when you are starting out, is to keep your intensity comfortable rather than pushing yourself too hard.

Another recommendation for fostering positive affective attitudes is to make your physical activity social. Of course walking with a friend will be more enjoyable than trudging along solo. Maybe you have someone who wants a workout buddy. Personally, I always look forward to a workout more if I know I will see a friend! By making your physical activity social, you will minimize boredom and foster fun.

Lastly, and I think you’re going to like this suggestion, pair your activity with nearly anything you enjoy to make it meaningful or interesting. You heard me! Are you an avid reader? Try reading your book on a stationary bike. Want to watch the newest episode of your favourite TV show? Do some exercises while you do it! This way you can still fit in some physical activity without sacrificing your favourite activities, and you’ll have fun doing it. Finally, check out this infograph for more ideas on how to increase physical activity enjoyment.

In short, the more fun you have doing physical activity the better! So focus on activities you take pleasure in. Make it your mission to make your physical activity as enjoyable as possible.

Next month we are chatting about how to build opportunity for physical activity so be sure to check back!

*References/Further Reading

Rhodes, R.E., Fiala, B., & Conner, M. (2009). Affective judgements and physical activity: A review and meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 38, 180-204.

Rhodes, R. E., & Kates, A. (2015). Can the affective response to exercise predict future motives and physical activity behavior? A systematic review of published evidence. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49, 715-731.

Rhodes, R.E. (2017). The evolving understanding of physical activity behavior: A multi-process action control approach. In A. J. Elliot (Eds.), Advances in Motivation Science (4th ed., pp. 171-205).

Williams, D.M. (2018). Psychological hedonism, hedonic motivation, and health behavior. In D.W. Williams, R.E. Rhodes, & M.T. Conner (Eds.), Affective Determinants of Health Behavior (pp. 204-229). New York, NY: Oxford Press.

Mind the Intention-Behaviour Gap

Did you have grand plans to make 2019 the year to embrace physical activity in a big way? Did you shortly thereafter fail to follow through on those shiny new positive intentions? Me too. Don’t be discouraged, as we are certainly not alone. In fact, research shows that about half of physical activity intenders fail to follow through and 2/3rds of intenders fail to follow through when starting a brand new exercise program*. It seems intentions alone are not sufficient to enact behaviour. This physical activity phenomenon has been termed the intention-behaviour gap.

Almost yearly, my New Year resolution is centered on incorporating copious amount of physical activity into my daily routine. Given January feels like a fresh start, I am usually incredibly inspired and impressively motivated. I always have high hopes of weekly yoga classes, long runs before work, and maybe even a spin class here and there. Does it happen? Nope.

It really comes as no surprise that we don’t always succeed. Physical activity generally and exercise specifically are complex behaviours requiring thought, effort, and concerted behavioural regulation. Thankfully, the Multi-Process Action Control (M-PAC) is a framework designed to address the intention-behaviour gap. This approach argues that translating intentions into physical activity behaviour, especially during the adoption stage, is partially determined by regulatory processes*. Basically, the takeaway is that to become a regular exerciser, intention is necessary but not enough. Fostering your intentions into actual physical activity requires some thought, planning, and self-regulation. More on these strategies later!

Alas, I’m being hard on myself. Although I may not have necessarily attended the sunrise yoga classes and the hardcore spin, I was still active. I walked to and from work, I ran a couple times a week, and I even did the occasional lunchtime workout. I usually hiked on the weekends. I am well on my way to achieving the recommended 150 weekly minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

This demonstrates the importance of recognizing our successes and celebrating our victories, however small they may be. Because leading an active lifestyle doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Did you take the stairs rather than the elevator? Great. Did you park a bit further to get some extra steps in? Excellent. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

So, in parting words of wisdom, don’t give up if you haven’t succeeded in turning your intentions into actions. It happens to the best of us. Trying and not succeeding sometimes is just part of the process…but keep on trying as the journey is lifelong. Focus on your small successes and rather than only allowing yourself a reboot in January, why not give yourself a reset day as required. Give yourself the gift of starting over!

Stay tuned for subsequent stories that focus on ways we can foster physical activity and help translate our intentions into actions according to the M-PAC framework. Let’s bridge the intention-behaviour gap!


Rhodes, R. E., & de Bruijn, G. (2013). How big is the physical activity intention-behaviour gap? A meta-analysis using the action control framework. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18(2), 296-309.

Rhodes, R.E. (2017). The evolving understanding of physical activity behavior: A multi-process action control approach. In A. J. Elliot (Eds.), Advances in Motivation Science (4th ed., pp. 171-205).

How to Build your Confidence for Physical Activity

Do you ever avoid something you’re terrible at? I’m going to venture a guess and assume you answered YES. We all have things we’re less than stellar at, and for the most part, we try to avoid doing these things. It’s human nature. It is also one of the most well-established foundations of social psychology*.

I, for one, am terrible at skiing. I did not grow up skiing and thus have very little experience. When my parents moved to a mountain town, I figured I’d give it a go. A few hours in I was stuck on the side of the mountain, helplessly unable to get down, discouraged, and embarrassed. Needless to say, I avoided skiing for some time and it took a while for me to build up the courage to get back out there to try again.

Other types of physical activity work the same way. If you perceive yourself as unable to do an activity, it’s likely you’ll be less apt to participate in that activity. That’s why it’s important to build your physical activity self-confidence if you’re aiming to adopt a more active lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, those that have higher self-confidence tend to engage in more physical activity*.

This key concept is otherwise known as self-efficacy. In short, it refers to your perceived capability to perform a behaviour. Perceived capability has been further defined as your physical and mental ability, capacity, or competence to perform a behaviour*. This is not to be confused with your motivation to do something. Often we say we “can’t” do something but what we really mean is we don’t want to do it!

Don’t fret, as generally, there are ways to improve your self-efficacy. In fact, simply engaging in physical activity appears to improve self-efficacy*. While there are many ways to improve self-efficacy, we highlight two key strategies below*, and thankfully they’re relatively straightforward!

The first is to have repeated positive experiences performing the activity. In order to do so, you’ll want to make sure you engage in activities you can accomplish. Then, gradually, you can increase the difficulty as you improve. For instance, you won’t instantly go from the couch to a marathon, but if you start running bit by bit, slowly increasing your mileage, you are more likely to have a positive experience. Similarly, if you are lifting weights, you will want to start small and eventually increase the weight as you get stronger!

The second strategy involves learning from others, as we often look to others for indications of our success or lack thereof. The key to this method is to ensure you are engaging in an activity with others where you feel competent. It follows that you will want to be sure to choose a good fit of activity that is appropriate for your skill level and ability. This way you can feel connected and relate to the activity together! For example, if you have never been to a group workout class, you may want to start with a beginner class before attending an advanced class. Or, if you are starting a new activity with your partner, choose one that you can both do without someone feeling less competent. Alternatively, choose something new that you can learn together!

In short, if you experience success you will build your confidence. Our biggest tip would be to keep your goals achievable and your physical activity comfortable! At least at first. This will help you link positive experiences to your physical activity and ultimately help you feel like a competent, confident exerciser.

According to the M-PAC schematic, perceived capability is a critical building block as it is a contributing factor to intention formation, which is essential for eventual physical activity adoption*. Stay tuned, as we will talk more about intentions next month!


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.

Bauman, A., Reis, R., Sallis, J., Wells, J., Loos, R., & Martin, B. (2012). Correlates of physical activity: why are some people physically active and others not? The Lancet, 380, 258-271.

Higgins, T., Middleton, K., Winner, L., & Janelle, C. (2014). Physical activity interventions differentially affect exercise task and barrier self-efficacy: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 3(8), 891-903.

Rhodes, R.E. (2017). The evolving understanding of physical activity behavior: A multi-process action control approach. In A. J. Elliot (Eds.), Advances in Motivation Science (4th ed., pp. 171-205).

Williams, D. M., & Rhodes, R. E. (2016). The confounded self-efficacy construct: Conceptual analysis and recommendations for future research. Health Psychology Review, 10(2), 113-128.