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Grounded in self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), the purpose of this work was to examine effects of the content and motivation of adults’ exercise goals on objectively assessed moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). After reporting the content and motivation of their exercise goals, 101 adult participants (Mage = 38.79 years; SD = 11.5) wore an ActiGraph (GT1M) accelerometer for seven days. Accelerometer data were analyzed to provide estimates of engagement in MVPA and bouts of physical activity. Goal content did not directly predict behavioral engagement; however, mediation analysis revealed that goal content predicted behavior via autonomous exercise motivation. Specifically, intrinsic versus extrinsic goals for exercise had a positive indirect effect on average daily MVPA, average daily MVPA accumulated in 10-min bouts and the number of days on which participants performed 30 or more minutes of MVPA through autonomous motivation. These results support a motivational sequence in which intrinsic versus extrinsic exercise goals influence physical activity behavior because such goals are associated with more autonomous forms of exercise motivation.
Simon J. Sebire is now with the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition & Health Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, U.K. Martyn Standage is with the Department of Health, University of Bath, Bath, U.K. Maarten Vansteenkiste is with the Department of Psychology, University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium.