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Researchers to women: Exercise for enjoyment, not obligation

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Ann Arbor, MI – Women who struggle to maintain a positive attitude toward exercise should try to adjust their mindset so they consider all movement – not just intense activity – valid and worthwhile, according to researchers from the University of Michigan.

As part of a study, researchers categorized 40 women ages 22 to 49 as either “high active” or “low active,” and asked them to describe what makes them feel happy and successful, and how that relates to their beliefs about exercise.

The researchers found that both categories of women shared similar thoughts about happiness and success. However, “low active” women said that although they ultimately prefer relaxation during leisure time, they feel pressure to exercise for health or weight loss benefits and believe “valid” exercise should entail intense activity. As a result, researchers say, many of these women feel like failures when they do not meet certain exercise and weight goals, and many stop exercising.

“The direct conflict between what these low-active women believe they should be doing when they exercise, and their desire to decompress and renew themselves during leisure time, demotivates them,” Michelle Segar, director of the Michigan Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center, said in a May 23 press release. “Their beliefs about what exercise should consist of and their past negative experiences about what it feels like actually prevents them from successfully adopting and sustaining physically active lives.”

The researchers recommend women work toward attaining more positive feelings about exercise by:

  • Defining physical activity as a flexible continuum in which all movement is “valid.”
  • Stressing exercise as an avenue for renewing themselves to better fulfill daily goals.
  • Reminding them that movement can and should feel good.
  • Promoting physical activity as a means for personal connection.

“A new understanding of what really motivates women might make an enormous difference in their ability to successfully incorporate physical activity into their daily routine – and have fun doing it,” Segar said in the release.

The study was published online May 18 in the journal BMC Public Health.

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