Physical Activity Motives in the Exercise and Self-Esteem Relationship

*Corresponding author: Jason P. Willow*

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brief research report


Aims and Objectives
The purpose of this investigation was to extend research examining physical and social influences in the exercise/self-esteem relationship by investigating the moderating role of physical activity motives. Research reveals multiple motives for exercise participation beyond physical health enhancement. It is thought that these motives may play an important role in the relationship between exercise and self-esteem. Previous research has established the contribution of the physical self-system in the relationship. Furthermore, research examining the contribution social self-system has shown promise, yet the mechanisms operating in the relationship are less clear. It was hypothesized that motivation for physical activity participation may be such a mechanism.
A population of 147 undergraduates completed assessments of physical activity participation, motives for physical activity, and physical, social and global self-perceptions. As expected, physical activity participation influenced self-esteem through both physical and social systems. Additionally, socially motivated exercisers exhibited greater self-esteem enhancement through the social as opposed to the physical self-system.
The hypothesis that physical activity motives would play an important role in determining the pathway through which physical activity participation influences self-esteem was partially supported. Results showed that those who reported social motives for physical activity showed greater enhancement in self-esteem through the social self-system, while physical motives did not serve a moderating role. The findings from the present investigation are important not only from the perspective of self-esteem theory but also with regard to the numerous practical implications of the results. The findings confirm that the relationship between exercise participation and self-esteem is more complex than previously thought in that physical activity participation influences self-esteem through multiple pathways. What remains to be investigated is how to best flesh out which pathway is more meaningful to the exerciser and then how to best serve the interests of the exerciser with the ultimate goal of enhancing self-esteem.
Self-esteem, Physical activity, Exercise, Self-concept, Motives.