OBJECTIVES: Received social support is considered important for health-enhancing exercise participation. The enabling hypothesis of social support suggests an indirect association of social support and exercising via constructs of self-regulation, such as self-efficacy. This study aimed at examining an expanded enabling hypothesis by examining effects of different kinds of social support (i.e., emotional and instrumental) on exercising not only via self-efficacy but also via self-monitoring and action planning.
DESIGN AND METHODS: An 8-week online study was conducted. Participants were randomly assigned to an intervention or a control group. The intervention comprised finding and then exercising regularly with a new exercise companion. Intervention and control group effects were compared by a manifest multigroup model.
RESULTS: Received emotional social support predicted self-efficacy, self-monitoring, and action planning in the intervention group. Moreover, received emotional social support was indirectly connected with exercise via the examined mediators. The indirect effect from received emotional social support via self-efficacy mainly contributed to the total effect. No direct or indirect effect of received instrumental social support on exercise emerged. In the control group, neither emotional nor instrumental social support was associated with any of the self-regulation constructs nor with exercise.
CONCLUSION: Actively looking for a new exercise companion and exercising together seems to be beneficial for the promotion of received emotional and instrumental social support. Emotional support in turn promotes exercise by enabling better self-regulation, in particular self-efficacy. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? With the 'enabling hypothesis', Benight and Bandura (2004, Behav. Res. Ther., 42, 1129) claimed that social support indirectly affects behaviour via self-efficacy. Research in the domain of physical exercise has provided evidence for this enabling hypothesis on a correlational basis only preventing causal inferences. What does this study add? We found evidence for the enabling hypothesis of received social support via self-efficacy on physical exercise in an intervention study. Moreover, this study demonstrated the distinct contribution of received emotional and instrumental social support in the context of the enabling hypothesis.