This study explored the relationship between exercise motivation, PA and PF among college students through a cross-sectional design using structural equation model. The results of this study showed a significant positive correlation between exercise motivation, PA and PF in college students. exercise motivation of college students can influence PF directly or indirectly through the mediating effect of PA. This study can prove that the greater exercise motivation and the better participation in PA could promote the PF status. This study is an extension and application of exercise motivation theory based on STD.
Extension and application of exercise motivation theory based on STD
One of the core objectives of the exercise motivation theory based on STD is to stimulate and encourage more people to participation in PA . The results of this study validate the hypothesis H1-H4 of this study, exercise motivation can significantly predict exercise behavior, which suggests that the amount of PA can be increased by increasing the exercise motivation among college students, followed by an increase in the PF. STD consists of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This study found that males and females have different motivations to participate in PA, and that different dimensions of exercise motivation have different effect to PF. Our study is an extension and application of exercise motivation theory based on STD.
Gender differences in different dimensions of exercise motivation among college students
The descriptive analysis results of the different dimensions of exercise motivation scores showed that the highest intensity of exercise motivation of college students was health motivation, followed by appearance motivation, fun motivation, competence motivation and social motivation. This indicated that the primary motivation for college students to participate in PA was to maintain physical health, which is similar to the previous study . The lowest intensity of social motivation suggested that college students do not participate in PA for social reasons to a large extent. In comparison, the external motivation of college students to participate in PA was stronger than the internal motivation. A possible reason for this is that highly autonomous intrinsic motivation is more able to control one’s behaviour to achieve good results compared to extrinsic motivation . In addition, male show stronger exercise motivation to participate in PA compared to female, and a study comparing the exercise motives for male and female Mexican college students participate in PA also confirm this . Of the five dimensions of exercise motivation, male have higher mean scores than female in health motivation, fun motivation, competence motivation and social motivation, and female have higher mean scores than male in appearance motivation only. It may suggest that female is more motivated by extrinsic factors to participate in PA, such as weight control and improved appearance, while male is more motivated by intrinsic factors to participate in PA, such as power competition and challenges [16, 26, 27]. This suggests that when designing intervention to potentiate improvement on exercise motivation, the variable gender should be considered.
PF levels of college students were far from excellent standard, with female overall higher than male
The average PF score (M = 72.51) of college students in this study were far from the Chinese national excellent standard (≥ 90), which indicates that their PF level needs to be further improved, this reminds us that attention should be draw on the strengthening the PF for college students. Therefore, we suggest that universities should actively conduct health promotion activities to promote the exercise motivation of university students and improve their PF. In addition, a study found that there are differences between female and male in relation to the weekly hours of exercise and physical condition, which is higher among male . However, we found an interesting phenomenon that male had higher average PA scores than female, but lower PF scores than female, this is different from previous studies. We speculate that this may be due to the fact that female have better dietary and lifestyle habits, which can have a positive impact on PF, as has been demonstrated in previous studies .
The effects of exercise motivation on PF in college students is related to dimensions of exercise motivation
The results of the hierarchical multiple regression analysis found that five dimensions of exercise motivation (health, appearance, fun, competence and social) predicted PF differently in college students after controlling for gender, age, grade and PA. Our research has confirmed that exercise motivation predicts PF. However, appearance motivation and social motivation are negative factors of predicting PF. It may be that appearance motivation and social motivation can also lead to anxiety, stress, and even depression when people lack of the social status and recognition from appearance, which often causes the person to stop exercising [30, 31]. In contrast, among the five dimensions of exercise motivation, health motivation and competence motivation were the significant positive factors of predicting PF. It has been reported that exercise motivation, such as enjoyment of healthy exercise, feeling competent, have a positive effect on exercise endurance , which is an important indicator of PF. In addition, health motivation increased identified regulation, and was positively related to exercise participation, which also promotes PF .
This study has some practical applications that are worth highlighting. To enhance PF, we need to consider that university can take measures to promote exercise motivation (especially for health motivation and competence motivation) of students. Our study suggests that not only gender but also dimensions of exercise motivation should be considered when designing interventions to increase exercise motivation to improve PA and PF.
First, our study is cross-sectional, thus causal inferences can not be determined. In the future, we should design longitudinal data collection strategies and methods on the basis of this research, and analyze the strength and direction of the causal relationship of exercise motivation, PA, and PF. Second, this study was conducted on college students at two universities only and it is hoped that the sample population can be expanded in the future for a comprehensive study. Finally, this study lacks data of important factors such as diet and sleep. These factors are associated with PF and they will be collected in our future studies.