Physical Activity and Self-Efficacy

What is the difference between Physical Activity and Exercise?

Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness are terms that describe different concepts yet are sometimes used interchangeably, and so often confused with one another (Caspersen et al, 1985).

Physical activity

Physical activity is movement that is carried out by the body that results in energy expenditure that can be categorised into occupational, sports, conditioning, household, or other activities.

Physical fitness/exercise

Physical fitness/exercise is a set of attributes that are either health- or skill-related, and is a more systematic/structurally planned activity. Although both concepts require movement, exercise seems to have a final or an intermediate objective to improve or maintain the components of physical fitness – in a more repetitive and intentional manner.

Wolff et al (2011), explains that both physical activity and exercise are effective for biochemical and physiological changes, and such adaptations are related to acute bouts of exercise and regular training.

The movement carried out by the body resulting in energy expenditure will help adolescents transitioning into early adulthood achieve their respective physical activity guidelines. These individuals will be categorised into occupational, sports, conditioning, household, or other activities based on the initial needs analysis.

Durstine, (2009) mentions how important it is to consider that adolescents obtain benefits from exercise training and physical activity that are similar if not the same as those for adults, as physical activity seems to have a more positive effect on reducing stress and anxiety – which consequently lead to improved self-efficacy.

How self-efficacy relates to physical activity?

Biddle & Mutrie, (2008) cited by Mailey, et al (2010) associate physical activity (P.A) as consistently enhancing psychological health, including reductions in anxiety and increased perceptions of control/self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to people’s beliefs about their capabilities, in this case to help individuals meet the P.A guidelines i.e. to undertake certain actions.

If support is removed however, before self-efficacy is strong enough, then sustained involvement in P.A often fails. Similarly, failure can occur if individuals’ have not been taught sufficient self-regulatory skills to self-manage P.A. i.e. self-care – especially when an intervention/programme finishes.

Many investigations have demonstrated a beneficial effect of exercise and P.A in people with high anxiety levels, none moreso than Durstine, (2009) alongside the American College of Sports Medicine. Mailey et al, (2010), agree and state that an increase in physical activity has been significantly associated with decreases in anxiety and increases in self-efficacy. Similarly, Bandura, (1986, 1997) points out that although self-efficacy is considered situation specific, changes in self-efficacy via exercise/physical activity can affect aspects such as anxiety.

Interestingly, Petruzzello et al, (1991) cited by Anderson et al, (2013) debated that exercise can increase self-efficacy by supplying experiences of successfully coping with the stress of exercising itself. As an individual’s self-efficacy improves, this gives them sufficient coping skills to prevent anxiety from occurring in the first place – and as behaviour’s change this then results in the individual managing to have more control.


Anderson, E., & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 4, 27. P1, 2

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Caspersen, C. J., Powell, K. E., & Christenson, G. M. (1985). Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: definitions and distinctions for health-related research. Public Health Reports, 100(2), 126–131.

Durstine, J.L. American College of Sports Medicine,(ACSM).Exercise Management for Persons with Chronic Diseases and Disabilities. 2009. Human Kinetics

Mailey, EL, Wójcicki, TR, Motl, RW, Hu, L, Strauser, DR, Collins, KD & McAuley, E 2010, ‘Internet-delivered physical activity intervention for college students with mental health disorders: A randomized pilot trial’ Psychology, Health and Medicine, vol 15, no. 6, pp. 646-659. DOI: 10.1080/13548506.2010.498894

Wolff, E., Gaudlitz, K., von Lindenberger, BL. et al. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci (2011) 261(Suppl 2): 186. P186, 187. Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders – European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 2011, Volume 261, Number 2, Page 186

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