Autonomy Support, Satisfaction of the Need for Autonomy, and Autonomous Regulation for Physical Activity in Older Adults
Background. Regular physical activity is beneficial for older adults in order to protect against age related injuries and illnesses, and to maintain their independence and quality of life. However, older adults are the least likely age group to meet the physical activity guidelines set forth by the American College of Sports Medicine and World Health Organization. According to the self-determination theory framework, health practitioners and exercise instructors should aim to create and deliver interventions in a way that fosters an autonomy-supportive health care climate (e.g., taking the perspectives of patients, providing choices) to facilitate satisfaction of the basic psychological needs and self-determined motivation. Purpose. The specific aims of this study were to (1) determine whether autonomy support is associated with physical activity-related need for autonomy, autonomous regulation, and physical activity behavior; and to (2) determine whether autonomy support moderates the association between physical activity-related need for autonomy and autonomous regulation. Methods. The design of the study was longitudinal. A total of 431 adults aged ≥ 55 years completed an online survey (Baseline – Week 0) containing self-determination theory-related predictor variables, along with past month and past week physical activity. Weekly online physical activity recall questionnaires were completed for four weeks (at Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4). The product of coefficient a × b approach was used to test the mediation effect using multiple linear regression analysis. The Monte Carlo 95% confidence interval [95% CI] (5,000 bootstrap samples) for the mediated effects were obtained using Hayes SAS MCMED macro. Results. Physical activity-related need for autonomy was found to partially mediate the relationship between autonomy support and autonomous regulation, but only for those who were engaging in physical activity 2 days per week (0.0195 [0.0004, 0.0438]) and ≥ 4 days per week (0.0390 [0.0098, 0.0774]). Additionally, the physical activity-related need for autonomy and autonomous regulation were found to mediate the relationship between autonomy support and physical activity, but only for those who were previously physically active (≥ 4 days per week in the last month) and younger (e.g. aged 58 years). Autonomy support was not found to moderate the need for autonomy-autonomous regulation relationship. Physical activity-related need for competence was positively associated with autonomous regulation and physical activity behavior. Conclusion. In line with the self-determination theory, the current findings suggest that the facilitation of autonomy support and the subsequent fulfillment of the psychological needs; consequently, lead to an increase in autonomous regulation. Future research should consider how the need for competence plays a role in physical activity participation beyond autonomous regulation as adults age.