What is exercise psychology?

Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine

A relatively new field of study, exercise psychology focuses on psychological factors that influence exercise behavior. It also examines how these psychological factors are influenced by exercise behavior.  Psychological factors that have been examined include self-esteem, depression, body image, anxiety, motivation, social support, and perceived control. 

Interest in the field of exercise psychology has exploded recently as research has shown that regular physical activity positively affects a broad range of physiological and psychological conditions. Unfortunately, a majority of Americans are not sufficiently active to accrue positive health and fitness benefits. In addition, 50% of individuals who do actually start an organized exercise program are likely to drop-out within the first six months of initiating the program (Dishman, 1982).  These alarming statistics emphasize the importance of understanding why people are either inactive or active; questions that focus on the area of exercise psychology.    

Considerable research now exists describing who is likely to be physically active and the many barriers all segments of the population face as they attempt to engage in a physically active lifestyle. Individuals, community groups, government agencies and corporations throughout the country are now interested in promoting health and physical activity and are using exercise psychology professionals to help in the design and implementation of programs to assist in initiating and sustaining positive health behaviors.       

Exercise psychology is concerned with the application of psychological principles to the promotion of physical activity and exercise; the psychological and emotional consequences of physical activity and exercise and the psychological, emotional and health related consequences of the lack of exercise.
Exercise psychology is a discipline used to help people assess where they are at with regards to exercise, define an individualized exercise program, help people deal with the barriers and issues that restrict people's participation in exercise and maximize a person's enjoyment of exercise.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.