Self-regulation in physical activity interventions for older adults: what makes action planning (in)effective?

  • L.M. Warner
  • J.K. Wolff
  • R. Schwarzer
  • S. Wurm


Background: For most populations, self-regulatory behaviour changes techniques (BCTs) such as action planning and self-monitoring facilitate physical activity (PA). Only for older adults, these BCTs have recently been found to be non-effective or even detrimental. To find explanations for why self-regulatory BCTs might fail among older adults the content of planning worksheets (with 0-6 plans) and 10-day self-monitoring diaries from a social-cognitive PA intervention group were analysed. Methods: Multilevel models were computed with plans nested in participants. Plan enactment (reported in diaries, n = 126) was predicted by plan characteristics as rated from content in planning worksheets (e.g., plan rank order, specificity of cues and activities including persons, locations or objects as cues, indoors vs. outdoors, MET minutes, number of planned opportunities). Findings: After controlling for age and sex, only plan rank order (B = -0.402, p < .001) and planned outdoor activities (B = 1.005, p = .004) predicted plan enactment. Discussion: As opposed to previous research that found the specificity and the intensity of the planned PA to be predictive of plan enactment among middle-aged adults, older adults enacted their plans only if they were listed among the first plans on the worksheet and if outdoor activities were planned. PA planning among older adults may fail because internal emotional cues become more relevant over environmental cues with age, as suggested by socio-emotional selectivity theory. Future studies might want to test mood-based cues (e.g., feeling like exercising, trying to overcome negative mood) in PA planning interventions for older adults.