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The process of shaping self through regular physical exercise among women : a grounded theory Flood, Karen R.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the psychological and social processes of regular physical exercise use by women who consider themselves "exercisers." In using grounded theory method, the primary objective of this study was to generate a substantive theory that described (a) the experiences of women who self-identified as exercisers and engaged in regular physical exercise, (b) the contextual factors that influenced their participation, and (c) explained the experience of participating in regular exercise, considering both the positive and negative effects of exercising, and the process of change through its use. Twenty-two women (age range, 21 to 60 years) were interviewed about their exercise experience. Twenty participants self-identified as exercisers. Two other participants, a former exerciser, and a nonexerciser, were interviewed in order to explore theory limits. A middle-range theory of "shaping self through exercise" was identified as the basic process of these women's experience of regular physical exercise. The process involved the reciprocal connection between two intrapersonal phases: "shaping up" and "experiencing self as shaped." Through interactions among the subprocesses of shaping up ("talking to self," "experiencing exercise," "diverting from self" and "feeling good about self") exercisers in this study experienced self as shaped through "growing into self," "grounding self in exercise," and "expressing self through exercise." Influenced by personal meaning and contextual conditions (one's personal exercise background, current life context, and socialcultural environment), exercisers frequently re-experienced both phases. Aspects of each conceptual element of the theoretical model are identified and illustrated by narrative data. This grounded theory provides insight into the complexity of women's physical exercise experience. To appreciate this experience it is necessary to view the social-psychological process from an interactionist perspective. Findings suggest that women's exercise may be more than physical movement in reaction to environmental and personal influences, but may also be an intrinsically motivated endeavour towards self-growth, self-care, and selfexpression. Awareness of the complexity of this process, including personal and contextual influences, may provide guidance towards more successful adoption and maintenance of exercise. Implications include future research directions to extend theoretical boundaries and specificity.

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