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Physical inactivity is an important risk factor for chronic mental and physical health conditions in firefighters. It remains unclear why a substantial portion of firefighters do not meet the World Health Organization’s physical activity (PA) recommendations. In this cross-sectional study, we explored associations between motivational reasons for being physically active and time spent exercising, walking, and in incidental PA in firefighters. A secondary aim was to investigate differences in motivational reasons between physically active versus physically inactive firefighters.


Eighty-seven participants (43.1 ± 10.3 years; 87.6% male) who were recruited via a nonprofit peer support network of fire rescue personnel in Flanders, Belgium, completed the Behavioral Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire 2 (BREQ-2), Simple Physical Activity Questionnaire (SIMPAQ), and the Physical Activity Vital Sign (PAVS) via an online survey.


Firefighters who identified the benefits of exercising and/or those who found pleasure or a personal challenge in it exercised more. Those who did not meet the guideline of 150 min of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week had much less intrinsic motivation.

Conclusions/Implications for Practice:

This study demonstrates that autonomous motives for PA (i.e., because it is perceived to be consistent with intrinsic goals or outcomes and emanates from the self) are important for an active lifestyle in firefighters. Occupational health professionals can foster autonomous motivation in firefighters by focusing on the benefits of exercise, making sure there are a wide range of exercise options available, and supporting initiatives of firefighters within the fire station.

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Published In

Article first published online: January 25, 2023
Issue published: May 2023


  1. exercise
  2. firefighting
  3. physical activity
  4. motivation
  5. self-determination

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© 2023 The Author(s).
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Published online: January 25, 2023
Issue published: May 2023
PubMed: 36695171



Davy Vancampfort, PhD
Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, KU Leuven
University Psychiatric Center, KU Leuven
Erik De Soir, PhD
Department of Scientific and Technological Research, Royal Higher Institute for Defence
Carlos Pelayo Ramos-Sanchez, Msc
Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, KU Leuven
Ruud van Winkel, PhD, MD
Department of Neurosciences, Center for Clinical Psychiatry, KU Leuven
Quinette Abegail Louw, PhD
Physiotherapy Division, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University
Grace McKeon, PhD
Discipline of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales
Simon Rosenbaum, PhD
Discipline of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales
School of Health Sciences, University of New South Wales
Soraya Seedat, PhD, MD
Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University


Davy Vancampfort, PhD, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, KU Leuven, Tervuursevest 101, Leuven 3001, Belgium; email: [email protected]

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