Skip to main content
Habitual exercise instigation (vs. execution) predicts healthy adults’ exercise frequency
Health Psychology
  • L. Alison Phillips, Iowa State University
  • Benjamin Gardner, King’s College London
Document Type
Publication Version
Accepted Manuscript
Publication Date
Objective: Habit is thought to be conducive to health behavior maintenance, because habits prompt behavior with minimal cognitive resources. The precise role of habit in determining complex behavioral sequences, such as exercise, has been underresearched. It is possible that the habit process may initiate a behavioral sequence (instigation habit) or that, after instigation, movement through the sequence is automated (execution habit). We hypothesized that exercise instigation habit can be empirically distinguished from exercise execution habit and that instigation habit strength is most predictive of future exercise and reflective of longitudinal exercise behavior change. Further, we evaluated whether patterned exercise action—that is, engaging in the same exercise actions from session to session—can be distinct from exercise execution habit. Method: Healthy adults (N = 123) rated their exercise instigation and execution habit strengths, patterned exercise actions, and exercise frequency in baseline and 1-month follow-up surveys. Participants reported exercise engagement via electronic daily diaries for 1 month. Hypotheses were tested with regression analyses and repeated-measures analyses of variance. Results: Exercise instigation habit strength was the only unique predictor of exercise frequency. Frequency profiles (change from high to low or low to high, no change high, no change low) were associated with changes in instigation habit but not with execution habit or patterned exercise action. Conclusions: Results suggest that the separable components of exercise sessions may be more or less automatic, and they point to the importance of developing instigation habit for establishing frequent exercise.

This is an accepted manuscript for publication in Health Psychology and is copyrighted material (APA copyright). The citation and DOI for this article are the following: Phillips, L. A., & Gardner, B. (2015, July 6). Habitual Exercise Instigation (vs. Execution) Predicts Healthy Adults’ Exercise Frequency. Health Psychology. Advance online publication.

This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.

Copyright Owner
American Psychological Association
File Format
Citation Information
L. Alison Phillips and Benjamin Gardner. "Habitual exercise instigation (vs. execution) predicts healthy adults’ exercise frequency" Health Psychology Vol. 35 Iss. 1 (2016) p. 69 - 77
Available at: