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Int J Nurs Stud. 2008 Nov;45(11):1690-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2008.02.012. Epub 2008 May 22.

Using self-efficacy theory to develop interventions that help older people overcome psychological barriers to physical activity: a discussion paper.

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  • 1Department of Nursing, Tzu Chi College of Technology, No. 880, Chien-Kuo Road, Section 2, Hualien 970, Taiwan.



Only a fifth of older people undertake a level of physical activity sufficient to lead to health benefit. Misconceptions about the ageing process and beliefs about the costs and benefits of exercise in late life may result in unnecessary self-imposed activity restriction. Thus, adhering to a physical activity can be difficult particularly when the benefits of exercise are often not immediate. Many of the barriers to engaging in physical activity among older people are attitudinal. It is therefore important to take account of the non-physical aspects of physical activity intervention programmes, such as increasing confidence. Self-efficacy is a widely applied theory used to understand health behaviour and facilitate behavioural modification, such as the increase of physical activity.


This paper aims to examine the ways in which self-efficacy theory might be used in intervention programmes designed to overcome psychological barriers for increasing physical activity among older people.


A number of studies have demonstrated that exercise self-efficacy is strongly associated with the amount of physical activity undertaken. Evidence from some trials supports the view that incorporating the theory of self-efficacy into the design of a physical activity intervention is beneficial. Physical activity interventions aimed at improving the self perception of exercise self-efficacy can have positive effects on confidence and the ability to initiate and maintain physical activity behaviour. There are a number of ways for nurses to facilitate older people to draw on the four information sources of self-efficacy: performance accomplishments, vicarious learning, verbal encouragement, and physiological and affective states. Research challenges that future studies need to address include the generalisability of exercise setting, the role of age as an effect modifier, and the need for more explicit reporting of how self-efficacy is operationalised in interventions.

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