To exercise or not to exercise – it’s a basic dilemma that usually comes down to how motivated you are. Staying in shape is partly a matter of motivation.

This idea makes sense intuitively, and a systematic review of studies of older adults confirmed it recently. The review looked at studies exploring the question of which older adults tend to be the most physically active.

The researchers identified two major factors involved in determining how active older adults were. One of them was motivation. The other was self-efficacy, which is about having a sense of confidence in your ability to meet your goals effectively.

So, OK, people are more physically active when they’re motivated to be physically active. But what motivates people to exercise? Why are some people more motivated than others?

Some of it, as it happens, is just down to genetics. For example, a 2014 study found that people who had a certain gene were more likely to keep on exercising when given the option to quit – in the study, 55 percent of the people with the gene continued exercising, compared to only 33 percent of those without it.

As with a long of things in life, though, genetics is part of the story, but it’s far from the whole story.

For one thing, it appears that finding the right exercise routine is an important aspect of staying motivated. One study found that people who perceive their exercise as having variety are more motivated to exercise. In other words, a monotonous exercise routine can put a real damper on your motivation.

Technology can help, too. In case, you haven’t heard, when it comes to exercise, there’s an app for that – actually, a lot of them. Research suggests that using exercise mobile phone apps may help people overcome perceived obstacles to exercising and a sense of self-efficacy.

Speaking of self-efficacy, it turns out that the feeling of accomplishment that comes with exercising regularly can make the motivation to exercise self-reinforcing. A study of teen girls found that those who successfully began exercising regularly during adolescence “reported valuing exercise for the opportunity it provides to set and achieve personally meaningful challenges, facilitating a sense of competence and achievement.”

In other words, although there are a variety of different factors that play into how motivated people are to exercise, it may be that once people start exercising, the feeling of successfully meeting their goals can kick off a virtuous cycle of motivation.

Image: Flickr/Hamza Butt