Fluctuation–a common but neglected pattern of physical activity behaviour: An exploratory review of studies in recent 20 years

Borui Shang, Yanping Duan*, Wendy Y J Huang, Walter Brehm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Regular physical activity (PA) is beneficial for physical and psychological well-being, yet many people do not achieve these health benefits due to irregular PA participation which is also known as fluctuation. Limited attention has been given to the phenomenon of fluctuation in the PA behaviour literature. Objective: The aim of this review was to explore and to map definitions, measurements, behavioural evidence, and factors related to PA fluctuation. Methods: Eligible studies were initially identified by a systematic search of articles conducted in four databases: Scopus, PubMed, PsycINFO, and SPORTDiscus between January 1996 and March 2016. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were set to check the eligibility of all articles. Additional articles were included by manual searching and expert recommendation. Results: Fifteen articles were finally included. Definitions of fluctuation are understood from two perspectives, either as a stage in the process of behaviour change, or as a particular PA phenomenon consisting of lapse and readoption. Common features were extracted: behavioural irregularity, high risk of drop-out, intention and readiness for PA, low automaticity, and limited self-regulation. Furthermore, fluctuation identification was summarised in three approaches such as stage algorithm, self-identified PA lapse and readoption, and prospective within-person variation in meeting the PA guidelines. Regarding the empirical evidence, this review found that people in PA fluctuation were significantly distinct from those in preparation and maintenance of PA behavioural performance, as well as distinct in psychosocial features. Conclusions: Notwithstanding the limitations, this review has provided valuable insight into the phenomenon of PA fluctuation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-278
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Sport Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

User-Defined Keywords

  • Exploratory review
  • fluctuation
  • physical activity
  • psychosocial


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