Living for Today or Tomorrow? Self-Regulation amidst Proximal or Distal Exercise Outcomes

M. Blair Evans, Erin Shanahan, Scott Leith, Noah Litvak, Anne E. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Although health promotion efforts to increase exercise behavior often emphasise long-term outcomes, sustained action in service of a distal reward is challenging. These studies examined how focusing on the proximal benefits of exercise, compared to distal outcomes or more general outcomes, may strengthen individuals’ self-regulatory self-efficacy and support physical activity or exercise behavior. Methods: Participants in Study 1 (N = 1057 community members) completed an online survey. Participants in Study 2 (N = 69 students) and Study 3 (N = 107 students) experienced experimental manipulations related to proximal or distal outcomes of exercise, and then completed survey measures. In Study 4, new members at a commercial gym (N = 210) completed a survey and had check-ins recorded over 17 weeks. Results: In Study 1, participants who ranked proximal outcomes of exercise as relatively more important than distal outcomes reported more frequent physical activity. In Studies 2 and 3, participants induced to focus on proximal outcomes reported increased self-regulatory self-efficacy. In Study 4, valuing proximal benefits predicted sustained exercise behavior (i.e. check-ins), particularly when fitness goal adherence felt difficult. Conclusions: Those holding increased proximal outcome beliefs reported more activity and greater efficacy to overcome the barriers that derail exercise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-327
Number of pages24
JournalApplied Psychology: Health and Well-Being
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology


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