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How Your Personality Affects Your Exercise Behavior

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How Your Personality Affects Your Exercise Behavior

How Your Personality Affects Your Exercise Behavior 

Do you ever look at someone and wonder how they can be so driven and accountable to matching their behaviors to their most important values? We might say to ourselves “I wish I had half the discipline that person does.” As a trainer, I see different levels of commitment all the time and try to figure out why some are not as driven or motivated as others. 

Every person has a unique personality and different levels of certain character traits that influence how they think, thereby influencing their physical actions and level of commitment to those actions.

There are many factors that determine human behavior, specifically exercise behavior (intensity, frequency, duration, adherence), such as the environment, culture, families, friends, education, biology, and many other forces. However, a main influence focused on here is personality. 

From a Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) perspective, personality is defined based on the likelihood of an individual behaving in certain ways in the variety of situations that make up his or her daily life. 

The Big Five

Researchers Paul Costa, Robert McCrae, and Lewis Goldberg discovered that five broad dimensions of personality—called the Big Five—seem to work well to describe people’s general tendencies to behave in predictable ways (Costa and McCrae, 1992; Goldberg, 1992). The acronym OCEAN is used to summarize the names of the Big Five traits: 

  • Openness to experiences
  • Conscientiousness 
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Openness to Experience

Openness to experiences reflects a person’s high degree of intellectual curiosity and creativity, as well as the preference a person has for novelty and variety. Someone who scores high in Openness may be more motivated to try new routines or environments when it comes to exercise. They may tend to be more physically active by engaging in a wide range of activities, whereas someone who scores low may only participate in one form of physical activity. Research shows that this dimension is related to more specific factors of exercise behavior and less influential than extroversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness.


Conscientiousness reflects a person’s perseverance in the face of challenges, and ability to complete tasks in disciplined and well-organized ways. If individuals lack this dispositional tendency they may struggle with self-regulatory tasks like consistent self-monitoring and detailed planning. If a person scores high in this trait, they may demonstrate more accountability and discipline, which is the most important for long-term adherence. When a schedule gets busy or something comes up that inhibits consistency, conscientious people will adapt and re-schedule rather than let it defeat them. Research shows that conscientiousness is the most influential factor and is positively associated with strenuous exercise behavior and adherence.


Extraversion reflects a person who exhibits high energy, positive emotions, and assertiveness, as well as sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others. An individual who scores high on extraversion may tend to favor exercise classes, small group training or buddy sessions where they can interact with others and push themselves at their own level of intensity. Extraversion is second to conscientiousness in the research and shows that it is positively associated with exercise behavior and adherence.


Agreeableness reflects a person’s tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic toward others. Someone who scores high on this trait may be much more coachable than a low scorer. They may find a better fit in one on one training sessions. They may also be more likely to perceive or agree that exercise is going to help them in every aspect of their life and embrace the benefits of being physically active. Finally, they may be less hard on themselves and more compassionate if they miss a workout or struggle with an exercise. Research has shown that Mindful Self-Compassion positively influences exercise behavior and adherence, whereas someone who is constantly hard on themselves may give up on themselves more easily.


The final trait is Neuroticism and it's the tendency for a person to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. A person who scores high in neuroticism may experience and/or associate more negativity surrounding what they do. They may feel averse to doing certain things and steer away from healthy behaviors if they associate negative feelings with it. Research has shown that neuroticism is negatively associated with exercise behavior and adherence.

In Summary...

The research states that the personality dimensions of conscientiousness, extraversion, and neuroticism are most associated with exercise behavior and adherence, while openness to experiences and agreeableness are related to more specific factors of exercise behavior, and tend to be less influential. These relationships are likely bidirectional, in that not only are people more inclined to participate in physical activity due to their personality but their personality may be influenced by their physical activity engagement (Allen and Laborde, 2014). 

Additionally, several mediating factors between personality and exercise behavior have been observed, such as attitudes (perceptions), participatory motives, and behavior regulation styles (Allen and Laborde, 2014; Courneya and Hellsten, 1998).

If you are interested to see what you would score on these traits you can take the assessment for free online at https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/IPIP-BFFM/. If you would like to improve in certain areas, wellness professionals who are certified or specialized in behavior change will have the resources and tools necessary to help.



Caleb Campbell

Masters in Kinesiology, Certified Personal Trainer - NASM, BCS



Allen, M.S., and Laborde, S. The role of personality in sport and physical activity. Eur. Psychiatry, 33(2016), pp. S209-S210.

Box, A.G., Feito, Y., Brown, C., and Petruzzello, S.J. Individual differences influence exercise behavior: how personality, motivation, and behavioral regulation vary among exercise mode preferences. Heliyon, Vol. 5, Issue 4 (April 2019).

Costa, P. T., and R. R. McCrae. Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PIR) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) Professional Manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, 1992.

Courneya, K.S., and Hellsten, L.A.M. Personality correlates of exercise behavior, motives, barriers and preferences: an application of the five-factor model. Pers. Indiv. Deffer., 24(5)(1998), pp 625-633.

Goldberg, L. R. “The Development of Markers for the Big-Five Factor Structure.” Psychological Assessment 4 (1992): 26–42. Print.

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