CPT Research Study

Research in Review: What type of messaging gets students to exercise?

Kyle Stull
Kyle Stull
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Communicating what can be gained from exercising versus what might be lost from not exercising can impact participation.

Journal Article:

Kozak, A.T., Nguyen, C., Yanos, B.R., & Fought, A. (2013). Persuading students to exercise: What is the best way to frame messages for normal-weight versus overweight/obese university students? Journal of American College Health, 61(5), 264-273. Doi:10.1080/07448481.2013.799477

Purpose of the Study:

The authors of this research set out to determine whether or not specific types of messages would motivate individuals. The types of messages individuals may respond to, regarding exercise, are often called gain-framed (highlight the benefits of taking action) or loss-framed (highlight the risk of not taking action). The researchers hypothesized that normal-weight students receiving gain-framed messages would make more visits to the health club and engage in more aerobic exercise and resistance training over a two week period compared with normal weight individuals who received loss-framed messages. Additionally, the authors believed that overweight or obese individuals who received loss-framed messages would participate more in exercise than overweight or obese participants who received gain-framed messages. Lastly, the researchers believed that all of the participants would improve exercise attendance and activity over the course of two weeks, regardless of what type of messages they received

Study Participants:

All participants were undergraduate students at least eighteen years of age. Individuals must have had a BMI of 18.5 to 34.9, engaged in less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week, less than 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio per week, less than 100 minutes of total moderate- and vigorous-intensity cardio, less than 20 minutes of strength training per week. Participants also had to intend on exercising regularly for the next 30 days to 6 months. 64 participants were deemed eligible.

Procedure or Methods:

All participants completed a variety of questionnaires to help establish the groups.

Two randomized lists of participants were generated by a computer system. Participants were placed into one of four groups: a) normal-weight receiving gain-framed messages; b) normal-weight receiving loss-framed messages; c) overweight/obese receiving gain-framed messages or d) overweight/obese receiving loss-framed messages.

Group participants first attended a meeting to receive education and information, where messages were either gain-framed or loss-framed. Additionally, participants were presented with exercise recommendations based on currently accepted standards. The participants then met with staff of the recreation center for an orientation on exercise equipment, how to determine exercise intensity, training on stretching techniques and exercises, plus facility center policies. After fourteen days of exercise and recording, participants met with researchers to collect data.


The results indicated that, on average, participants exercised less than one time per week with only 47 minutes of aerobic exercise and 1.3 resistance training exercises per week at baseline.

There was no difference in either of the normal weight groups’ fitness center use over the course of the study. Nor was there any change in the overweight/obese group receiving the loss-framed messages. The only group with a change in fitness center use was the overweight/obese group receiving the gain-framed messages.

The overweight/obese group, who received the gain-framed messages, engaged in significantly more total aerobic exercise over the course of the study.

The normal weight and overweight/obese gain-framed messaging group significantly increased the number of resistance training sessions over the course of the study. Also, the normal weight loss-framed messaging group also increased the number of resistance training sessions.


The researchers found that their hypotheses were only partially supported. Those in the overweight/obese gain-framed messaging group were the only participants to significantly improve on all three primary outcomes. Normal-weight participants receiving gain-framed messages were not more likely to exercise more than those receiving loss-framed messages. Additionally, overweight/obese individuals receiving loss-framed messages did not improve frequency or time of exercise compared to those receiving gain-framed messages.

Take away for NASM-CPTs:

This study suggests and supports using positive messaging to encourage clients with weight-loss goals. Those seeking weight-loss goals may deal with negative messaging all the time. Loss-framed messages do not help individuals feel supported or like they can complete challenging tasks. Therefore, when working with clients, make sure to send them positive and encouraging messages throughout the week to keep them motivated.

The Author

Kyle Stull

Kyle Stull

Kyle Stull, DHSc, MS, LMT, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, NASM Master Instructor, is a faculty instructor for NASM. Kyle is also an Adjunct Professor for Concordia University Chicago.


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