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Updated 10:00 AM April 17, 2006
 

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  Research
Go figure: Weight loss one of the worst reasons to exercise

Exercising to lose weight? Think of another reason or the odds are you won't be exercising for long, according to a University study of Baby Boomer women.

The study, detailed in the journal Sex Roles, found that women who exercised for a body shape motive, such as wanting to lose weight or to become toned, spent about 40 percent less time exercising than women who worked out for motives not related to achieving a certain body shape or weight.

"Everyone knows that exercise is good for them. Most don't do it consistently," says Michelle Segar, a psychology researcher who collaborated with Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a former U-M psychology professor, and Donna Spruijt-Metz of the Institute of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Los Angeles.

Researchers say there appears to be a greater chance of maintaining exercise habits when it is for a non-body shape reason, such as working out to reduce stress, increase a sense of well being, or for the intrinsic enjoyment of the activity itself or social reasons, such as wanting to do something with a friend.

The women studied, all in their mid-40s, reported how much they exercised in a typical week. Nearly half—44 percent—said they worked out to lose pounds, maintain weight and/or tone their bodies, and these women did almost 40 percent less exercise than others with non-body shape motivation.

Research shows that the reasons people initiate exercise regimes are different from the purposes associated with participating long-term. Intrinsic reasons, such as enjoying the physical activity you participate in, are considered important for maintaining the activity over time.

In contrast, women who decide to exercise to lose weight or change their body shape may select physical activities based on how many calories they burn, rather than on how much they like doing that activity—a recipe for eventually quitting.

"We're all so busy—who has time to fit in an activity you don't really enjoy?" Segar says. "Don't take up running if you don't particularly enjoy running. You're better off to find something more pleasurable, like walking with a friend, or to do something you do like and will keep doing long-term as a regular part of your life."

The study also found:

• Women with a body-shape motivation reported walking 2-1/2 times less than women with non-body shape motives;

• Women with body-shape motivation reported taking classes and going to gyms/fitness centers three times as often as women with non-body shape motives, showing that women with this goal used exercise techniques they might not enjoy with more frequency because they thought it would help them lose weight faster;

• Women who exercised for body-shaping reasons reported participating in physical activities that are higher intensity. They also selected activities that fit into the more traditional definition of exercise—more formal and structured activities—with the idea that they had to go some place for it to count as exercise.

"There are so many good reasons to exercise like stress relief, to feel energized, to be stronger, to balance your life, to just get away by yourself or for a better sense of well-being," Segar says.

"Women tend to pick something structural, like taking a class and they quit when the class is over. Or they jog because an event is coming up and quit after the event. But something like walking regularly can help more long-term. You don't have to sweat for exercise to count."

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