When you don't get what you want—and it's really hard: Exploring motivational contributions to exercise dropout

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Abstract

Objectives:

Dropout is a pervasive, yet understudied phenomenon in exercise behaviour. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceived individual, behavioural, and environmental influences experienced by 35–65-year-old adults who dropped out of a structured exercise programme.

Design:

This research took a qualitative description approach, with social-cognitive theory providing a guiding framework.

Method:

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 17 participants (13 females and 4 males), with an average age of 49 years (SD = 6.8). The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed using qualitative content analysis.

Results:

Findings are represented by four themes: (1) feeling good but disappointed, (2) scheduling issues, (3) trouble prioritizing exercise, and (4) exercising for/with someone else.

Conclusions:

These themes highlight the fragile nature of motivation for exercise. It seems the decision to continue exercising depends on a deliberate weighing of benefits against barriers. Unrealistic outcome expectations, low scheduling self-efficacy, and an unmet desire for social support and accountability can all influence this process in favour of drop out.

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