Are you looking for a way to boost exercise participation among your clients? Make an effort to add variety to their programming. The amount of variety people feel they experience when exercising predicts how much exercise they actually do, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver. There study understanding of the psychological factors that predict exercise behavior and whether the experience of variety matters.

Using an online questionnaire, the research team collected data twice, 6 weeks apart. Questions assessed whether participants felt they experienced exercise variety, and whether they felt satisfied with their competence, autonomy and relatedness (feelings of attachment, companionship and connectedness with other people) and with their typical exercise behavior. Included in the study were 363 adult men and women aged 18-83. “A broad subject population was recruited to see if variety matters for adults in general,” said lead study author, Benjamin D. Sylvester, PhD candidate in kinesiology at UBC.

Data analysis showed that exercise variety was predictive of exercise behavior and related to autonomous motivation. Autonomous motivation is defined as a “high quality and volitional type of motivation that leads to engagement and persistence in activities.” Study authors believed that autonomous motivation is an important reason that explains why the experience of variety is related to behavior.

Sylvester said, “Exercise professionals might want to ask their clients whether they are experiencing variety in their exercise, and try to increase it. . . . It’s the subjective perception of the client that matters.” So what is the message? Rather than simply changing programs around, solicit feedback to make sure your clients perceive and experience the variety you are trying to inject in their programs.

The study is available in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology (2014; 36, 516-27).