• intrinsic motivation;
  • extrinsic motivation;
  • exercise;
  • leisure-time physical activity;
  • leisure-time physical inactivity

The purpose of this study was to examine the motives for leisure-time physical activity among active and inactive men and women in their mid-30s. We used both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs. Altogether, 2308 participants (mean age 33.9 years, 53.4% women) were identified from the population-based FinnTwin16 Cohort. Physically active and inactive individuals were identified on the basis of their leisure-time MET h/day. We evaluated participants' physical activity motivation with a modified version of the Recreational Exercise Motivation Measure. Comparisons between active and inactive individuals were analysed using the Wald test for equality of means, and effect sizes were calculated as Cohen's d. Motives related to mastery, physical fitness, social aspect of physical activity, psychological state, enjoyment, willingness to be fitter/look better than others, and appearance were significantly more important for the active than inactive participants. Conforming to others' expectations was the only item on which the inactive persons scored higher than active persons. The longitudinal results for physical activity were parallel to the cross-sectional results. This study supports the view that motivation factors differ between active and inactive persons, and that intrinsic motives are associated with consistent leisure-time physical activity.