Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Nursing Science


exercise, Grounded theory, motivation, nursing, Physiology, self-esteem


The physiological and psychological health benefits of regular physical exercise are well-documented; however, drop-out rates from both supervised and unsupervised exercise remain high. Many potential influences on exercise behavior have been studied, but with largely inconsistent results, making it difficult to identify key targets for intervention. The purpose of this study was to explore the process through which nonexercisers become exercisers, and the contextual factors which affect movement through this process, in order to enable nurses to more successfully assist clients to incorporate exercise into their lifestyles. The exercise experiences of 22 individuals who had successfully made the transition from nonexerciser to exerciser at some point in their adult lives were explored using grounded theory methodology. Study findings indicated that the process through which these nonexercisers became exercisers centered around the development of an "exerciser identity". Prompted by some critical experience to engage in self-appraisal, participants became committed to the idea of changing themselves, by means of exercise. Through the process of experimenting with, evaluating, and confirming the rewards of exercise participation, participants experienced a positive identity change, which made exercise involvement self-reinforcing. Exercising now seemed "normal" to these individuals--a part of who they were. The context and conditions surrounding exercise participation were found to be important influences on pre-existing identity, the quality of the exercise experience, and changes in exercise identity over time, but did not prevent nor guarantee successful movement through the process of developing an "exerciser identity". These findings suggest the need for a significant shift in the focus of exercise research and intervention from behavior to identity. Exercise must be conceived of not just as an activity that people engage in, but as something that becomes a part of who people are, which can change over time. Future research efforts should continue to pursue the link between identity and exercise behavior, using dynamic, context-oriented methods.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access



Included in

Nursing Commons