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Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations as moderators of the association between exercise frequency and exercise behavior

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Motivations underlying exercise may contribute to the extent to which exercise is maladaptive, independent of exercise frequency. Extrinsic and intrinsic exercise motivation may independently moderate associations between exercise frequency and 1) compulsive and 2) healthy exercise. It was expected that among individuals with high extrinsic motivation, greater exercise frequency would be associated with more compulsive exercise, whereas among individuals with high intrinsic motivation, greater exercise frequency would be associated with more healthy exercise.


A total of 446 university students (50.9% female; 67.0% White) completed measures of intrinsic and extrinsic exercise motivations, exercise frequency, compulsive exercise, and healthy exercise. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for exercise were entered as simultaneous independent moderators of the associations between exercise frequency and 1) compulsive exercise and 2) healthy exercise in multiple linear regressions.


Moderation effects of exercise motivation were not supported for compulsive exercise. Only main effects of frequency (b = 0.04, p < 0.01) and extrinsic motivation (b = 0.27, p < 0.01) were observed. Intrinsic motivation moderated the association between frequency and healthy exercise (b = –0.02, p = 0.03). Among individuals with lower intrinsic motivation, greater frequency was related to more healthy exercise. This association was significantly weaker among individuals with high intrinsic motivation.


Consistent with theory and extant work, extrinsic motivation was associated with compulsive exercise, while intrinsic motivation was associated with healthy exercise. Clinically, assessing the extent to which exercise is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated may help identify whether individuals may be more likely to engage in compulsive versus healthy exercise. Results support the importance of exploring the exercise motivations as predictors of compulsive and healthy exercise.

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Level V, Descriptive Cross-Sectional Study.

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Data availability

The dataset generated and analyzed during the current study is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors declare that no funds, grants, or other support were received during the preparation of this manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection were performed by MP. Data analysis and the first draft of the manuscript were completed by CS. Supervision was provided by DR. All authors commented on and edited previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Cody Staples.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

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This study was approved by the University of South Florida Institutional Review Board.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Staples, C., Palermo, M. & Rancourt, D. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations as moderators of the association between exercise frequency and exercise behavior. Eat Weight Disord 27, 2801–2809 (2022).

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