Like many people I started a personal fitness exercise program out of a physical need.  I started running to lose weight. As soon as the body weight went down…my speed increased. Losing or maintaining weight coupled with faster racing times provided good extrinsic motivation to continue running. Eventually I identified with this physical activity I do the most and proudly claim “I am a runner!”

Running does not require much skill compared to other fitness activities. It does however require some health related fitness components. Five components are muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and body mass index. As an added benefit some health related fitness components tend to improve with adherence to an exercise program.

Other fitness activities and sports usually involve skill components. Five main skill components of fitness are agility, balance, coordination, power, and reaction time. Most activities rely on a combination of skills to various extents. Dancing primarily uses balance and agility. Coordination helps in golf and bowling. Power assists in swimming and football. Reaction time can be critical in baseball and basketball. Again some skill components will improve with adherence to sports and exercise programs.

“Who does that?”

Which fitness activities are compatible with you? In addition to the aforementioned health components and skill considerations there must be some psychological rationale for how a given exercise fitness or sports program will stick with certain individuals. Psychologists have studied how fitness activities are influenced by a participant’s character or personality traits. Dr. James Gavin (Concordia University) has developed a unique model for person-activity matching that has been adopted as a method for coaching individuals into an active lifestyle of wellness.

Figure 1: Seven Personality Traits and Physical Activities

In the December, 2004, issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Gavin presented rankings of 19 popular sports on each of 7 psychometric scales of personality traits. The rankings were based on extensive interviews with participants and fitness professionals. I have highlighted the upper end of those scales graphically (Figure 1). Note that the activities are rather generic, for example instead of individually listing soccer, baseball, hockey, etc. he uses the term “team sports.” Likewise the activity labeled racquets actually includes tennis, squash, badminton, etc.

Comparison of seven personality traits of an individual (using a five-point Likert scale) to a physical activity found that greater degrees of matching were associated with more hours of participation or adherence to program and satisfaction. The seven personality traits are described as follows:

1.       Sociability – degree to which one prefers social interaction over solitary pursuits.
2.       Spontaneity – extent to which an individual lives in an intuitively guided open manner whereby spur-of the-moment happenings are welcomed, rather than emphasizing high level of control and predictability, while avoiding fluid situations
3.       Motivation – degree to which individual exhibits high levels of self-determination and willpower, as opposed to require external support and reinforcement to stick with challenging activity
4.       Assertiveness – extent to which individual confidently and actively demonstrates determination, rather than behave gentle, non-aggressive, or even passive.
5.       Competitiveness – extent to which individual enjoys and pursues challenge or rival engagement, as contrasted with avoidance or preference for noncompetitive or collaborative pursuits.
6.       Mental Focus – degree to which individual demonstrates ability to concentrate and prefers activities in which the mind is absorbed solely on activity in contrast to one that prefers high levels of stimulation, multiple, simultaneous engagements or distractions.
7.       Risk Taking – extent to which individual pursues adventure and engages in risky behavior as a thrill seeker in contrast to a cautious one, concerned with safety and security.

These traits are not equally weighed by everyone. While assessing these personality traits it is important to ask the fitness participant “Which of these traits are the most essential to your choice of exercise?” It is also possible that a fitness participant may wish to build new character traits and a different profile. First to make a change a participant may not need to adjust their fitness activity as much as the way they go about it. For example not all running has to be done solo there are possibilities for group runs such as relays for life or adventurous events such as mud or color runs.

Your fitness program can develop your personality traits. This suggests that personality trait components of fitness will improve with adherence to the appropriately ‘matched’ sports and exercise program. Attention to personality trait components in addition to health and skill components should enable fitness participants to recognize the multidimensional physical, intellectual, and psycho-social realms that sports and exercise can access to improve wellness.