Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Lisa L. Harlow


In 1982, research indicated that approximately 50% of people involved in exercise programs would drop out within six months (Dishman, 1982). Now, over a decade later, the figure remains the same. (Dishman, 1991; Marcus, et al., 1992). Though great strides have been made within the past ten years in understanding many determinants of the process of exercise acquisition, at present, very little is known about exercise relapse.

The purpose of this study was to provide a comprehensive assessment of relapse from exercise in college students through: 1) literature review; 2) psychometric assessment of a Reasons for Relapse from Exercise scale; 3) classification and external validation of types of relapsers; 4) identification of predictors of relapse from exercise drawn primarily from three models of health behavior: the Relapse Prevention Model (e.g., Marlatt & Gordon, 1985); Transtheoretical Model (e.g. Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983); and Physical Self-Perceptions from a hierarchical model of self-esteem (e.g., Fox & Corbin, 1989), and 5) to evaluate the contribution of negative psychosocial functioning and social support to frequency of relapse from exercise.

Psychometric assessment of a Reasons for Relapse from Exercise Scale indicated that reasons for relapsing can be grouped into three relatively distinct subscales encompassing situational, personal, and injury reasons, and each with satisfactory psychometric properties. Cluster analysis revealed four types of relapsers: maintainers, occasional relapsers, frequent relapsers, and current non-exercisers. Important differences between types were observed on several external exercise-related behaviors and attitudes, providing direction for tailored interventions. Five structural equation models predicting frequency of relapse from exercise revealed that components of each of the three theories, in addition to negative psychosocial attitudes and social support explained a large proportion of the variance in frequency of relapse. Proportions of explained variance ranged from 16% (social support predictors) to 49% (Relapse Prevention predictors). An exploratory prediction model combining all significant predictors explained over half (58%) of the variance in frequency of relapse.

Results from each of these studies are drawn together to provide initial support for a proposed integrated model of relapse from exercise, and directions for future research are suggested.



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