The effectiveness of multi-component goal setting interventions for changing physical activity behaviour: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Health Psychol Rev. 2016;10(1):67-88. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2015.1104258. Epub 2015 Nov 13.


Drawing from goal setting theory (Latham & Locke, 1991; Locke & Latham, 2002; Locke et al., 1981), the purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of multi-component goal setting interventions for changing physical activity (PA) behaviour. A literature search returned 41,038 potential articles. Included studies consisted of controlled experimental trials wherein participants in the intervention conditions set PA goals and their PA behaviour was compared to participants in a control group who did not set goals. A meta-analysis was ultimately carried out across 45 articles (comprising 52 interventions, 126 effect sizes, n = 5912) that met eligibility criteria using a random-effects model. Overall, a medium, positive effect (Cohen's d(SE) = .552(.06), 95% CI = .43-.67, Z = 9.03, p < .001) of goal setting interventions in relation to PA behaviour was found. Moderator analyses across 20 variables revealed several noteworthy results with regard to features of the study, sample characteristics, PA goal content, and additional goal-related behaviour change techniques. In conclusion, multi-component goal setting interventions represent an effective method of fostering PA across a diverse range of populations and settings. Implications for effective goal setting interventions are discussed.

Keywords: Goal setting; exercise; health; intervention; meta-analysis; physical activity; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged