Using imagery can play a valuable role in motivating and influencing physical activity. A recent study looked at the influence of a specific type of imagery on middle-aged and older adults’ physical activity and the attitudes surrounding exercise: imagining the planning and goal-setting side of exercise.
Research has shown that the use of imagery can play a valuable role in motivating and influencing physical activity. To date, researchers have primarily focused on visualizing appearance, energy levels, or specific exercise techniques. A recent study examined the role of a different type of imagery: self-regulatory imagery. This consists of imagining the planning and goal-setting behaviors associated with exercise, the added motivation that such efforts can produce, and achieving these plans and goals. This study looked at how regulatory imagery was related to physical activity in 312 adults ages 50 to 80.
Participants were asked 12 questions about their use of self-regulatory imagery, half on imagining planning and half on imagining goal setting. In addition, they were asked about actual planning and goal-setting behaviors, self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to accomplish goals), expectations about exercise outcomes, barriers to exercise, enjoyment of exercise, and their physical activity.
Comparing the middle-aged (50-64) and older (65-80) participants, the older group reported greater self-efficacy, more positive exercise expectations, more actual self-regulation of behavior, and greater enjoyment of physical activity. With respect to sex differences, males showed higher self-efficacy, greater self-regulation of behavior, and were more physically active.
Greater self-regulatory imagery was associated with greater self-efficacy, more positive exercise outcome expectations, and more actual self-regulatory behaviors. Further analysis also showed that self-efficacy contributed to the relationship between self-regulatory imagery and perceived barriers to exercise, enjoyment of exercise, and expectations of exercise outcomes. Engaging in actual self-regulatory behavior contributed to the relationship between self-regulatory imagery and enjoyment of exercise.
These results suggest that efforts to encourage one’s self-regulatory imagery and confidence in one’s ability to achieve goals could lead to higher expectations for exercise outcomes, fewer perceived barriers to exercise, and greater enjoyment of exercise. The authors also emphasize the importance of enjoying exercise, concluding that “it is important for practitioners to use imagery content that targets enjoyment combined with goal and planning images.”
Kosteli M-C, Cumming J, and Williams SE. Self-Regulatory imagery and physical activity in middle-aged and older adults: a social-cognitive perspective. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity (2018); 26:1, 14-24 .