What Is “Exercise Identity,” And How Does It Impact Your Workouts?

May 18, 2020

Your exercise identity might be the key to working out more frequently and with more results.

A brand new study published in the Journal of Humans in Computer Behavior analyzed the relationship between physical activity, fitness apps, and exercise identity. Researchers discovered that individuals who have fitness apps on their phone worked out more often and more vigorously, but exercise identity plays a key role in determining that relationship.

First of all, what does “exercise identity” even mean?

The researchers describe exercise identity as “the extent to which an individual defines their self-concept as an exerciser or someone who is regularly physically active.” In other words, do you consider yourself to be an active or physically fit person? Are you a frequent gym-goer? Would you describe yourself this way to others? How you answer these questions determines your exercise identity. If you answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes,” to all of these questions, you have a strong exercise identity.

Exercise identity is just one component of our overall self-concept—we are multifaceted individuals, after all. Nevertheless, identity traits that we consider to be central to our self-concept determine how we spend our free time. This means that individuals with a stronger exercise identity spend more time being physically active.

Where do fitness apps factor into all this?

Individuals who had fitness apps on their phone engaged in 67% more vigorous physical activity than those who had no fitness apps. Those with fitness apps also worked out a total of 25% more than those without.

Do fitness apps alone motivate people to work out that much more? Not exactly… individuals with fitness apps on their phone also had a 36% greater exercise identity than those without. When the researchers eliminated exercise identity from the equation, the relationship between fitness apps and physical activity became non-significant. This means that exercise identity directly influences how we utilize fitness apps.

Our exercise identity determines how frequently and intensely we work out, in addition to how we use our fitness apps.

With these findings in mind, the researchers suggest that fitness apps function as a symbol or marker of exercise identity, ultimately increasing the significance that we attribute to our exercise identity within our self concept. Basically, a strong exercise identity leads us to download fitness apps, and having fitness apps on our phone makes our exercise identity feel even more important to us.

If you’re having trouble sticking to a fitness regimen, consider engaging in a little healthy self-reflection. How do you think about your relationship to exercise? Would you say that you have a strong exercise identity? If a healthy exercise identity begins with “I think, therefore I am”—the first step is believing in yourself.


Barkley, Jacob E., Andrew Lepp, Antonio Santo, Ellen Glickman, and Bryan Dowdell. “The Relationship between Fitness App Use and Physical Activity Behavior Is Mediated by Exercise Identity.” Computers in Human Behavior 108 (2020): 106313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106313.

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