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Br J Health Psychol. 2010 May;15(Pt 2):265-88. doi: 10.1348/135910709X461752. Epub 2009 Jul 7.

What is the best way to change self-efficacy to promote lifestyle and recreational physical activity? A systematic review with meta-analysis.

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  • 1Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle Interventions, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, UK.



Increasing self-efficacy is an effective method to increase physical activity. Despite this, the evidence concerning the most effective techniques to increase self-efficacy in physical activity interventions has not been systematically reviewed. The aim of the present research is to systematically gather, and meta-analyse, intervention studies which aimed to increase self-efficacy for physical activity; to estimate the association between intervention techniques used, and change in self-efficacy achieved.


A systematic database search was conducted for papers reporting lifestyle or recreational physical activity interventions. Published intervention studies explicitly targeting self-efficacy in order to change physical activity behaviour in 'healthy' adults were eligible for inclusion.


The search strategy identified 27 unique physical activity intervention studies, with a total of 5,501 participants. A significant, yet small, relationship between the interventions and changes in self-efficacy was found (mean d=0.16, p<.001). Owing to significant heterogeneity, moderator analyses were conducted, examining the association of changes in self-efficacy with whether or not specific intervention techniques were used. Interventions that included feedback on past or others' performance produced the highest levels of self-efficacy found in this review. Vicarious experience was also associated with higher levels of self-efficacy. Persuasion, graded mastery, and barrier identification were associated with lower levels of self-efficacy.


This meta-analysis forms an evidence base for which psychological techniques are most effective in increasing self-efficacy for physical activity. The results are presented in terms of recommendations for those developing interventions and directions for future research.

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