Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 110–122 | Cite as

Using self-determination theory to promote physical activity and weight control: a randomized controlled trial in women

  • Marlene N. SilvaEmail author
  • Paulo N. Vieira
  • Sílvia R. Coutinho
  • Cláudia S. Minderico
  • Margarida G. Matos
  • Luís B. Sardinha
  • Pedro J. Teixeira


Behavior change interventions are effective to the extent that they affect appropriately-measured outcomes, especially in experimental controlled trials. The primary goal of this study was to analyze the impact of a 1-year weight management intervention based on self-determination theory (SDT) on theory-based psychosocial mediators, physical activity/exercise, and body weight and composition. Participants were 239 women (37.6 ± 7.1 years; 31.5 ± 4.1 kg/m2) who received either an intervention focused on promoting autonomous forms of exercise regulation and intrinsic motivation, or a general health education program (controls). At 12 months, the intervention group showed increased weight loss (−7.29%,) and higher levels of physical activity/exercise (+138 ± 26 min/day of moderate plus vigorous exercise; +2,049 ± 571 steps/day), compared to controls (P < 0.001). Main intervention targets such as more autonomous self-regulation (for treatment and for exercise) and a more autonomous perceived treatment climate revealed large effect sizes (between 0.80 and .96), favoring intervention (P < 0.001). Results suggest that interventions grounded in SDT can be successfully implemented in the context of weight management, enhancing the internalization of more autonomous forms of behavioral regulation, and facilitating exercise adherence, while producing clinically-significant weight reduction, when compared to a control condition. Findings are fully consistent with previous studies conducted within this theoretical framework in other areas of health behavior change.


Theory-based intervention Randomized controlled trial Weight management Autonomy promotion Self-regulation Intrinsic motivation 



This study was funded by grants by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT-POCI/DES/57705/2004 and SFRH/BD/21372/2005 to Marlene N. Silva) and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (grant number 65565/2004). The investigators are also grateful to the Oeiras City Council, Nestlé Portugal, and IBESA for their additional financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marlene N. Silva
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paulo N. Vieira
    • 1
  • Sílvia R. Coutinho
    • 1
  • Cláudia S. Minderico
    • 1
  • Margarida G. Matos
    • 1
  • Luís B. Sardinha
    • 1
  • Pedro J. Teixeira
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Human KineticsTechnical University of Lisbon, Estrada da Costa, Cruz QuebradaLisbonPortugal

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