The University Record, January 28, 1998

Culture, media make it difficult to commit to regular exercise

Fitting in fitness can be about going to the gym or simple things such as taking a walk on your lunch break. Record file photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Jane R. Elgass

Women over the age of 35, who grew up in the days before Title IX and the fitness craze, find it difficult to decide to exercise and then maintain a regular program of activity because the society in which they matured did not support that kind of activity for a woman.

Today, women of that era who want to develop a fitness program must first "exorcise exercise--take the devil out of exercising," said Michelle Segar, president of the National Center for Women and Wellness. They need to overcome the barriers that prompt them to say "yuk," "sweat," "boring" when asked what they think of when the word "exercise" is used. Segar addressed a group of about 30 alumnae Jan. 22 in a workshop titled "Fitting in Fitness for Busy Women" sponsored by the Alumni Association's Alumni Career Center.

Segar explained that the barriers facing the over-35 group are not only those resulting from being raised in the pre-Title IX era. They also result from the admonition touted for many years that exercise is successful only if it is done perfectly in a structured fashion several times a week, with your heart rate reaching a certain elevated point, coupled with advertising and marketing that present images of women most cannot achieve.

Those seeking fitness today can take solace in a relaxed 1996 recommendation from the Surgeon General that calls for an accumulation of 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity. The activity can include such easily-accomplished things as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking on your lunch hour, cleaning, gardening or playing with your children.

Segar pointed out that much of our education about exercise comes from equipment and clothing manufacturers who promote their products with images of young, healthy, perfectly proportioned, sexy women.

The advertising implies that if you purchase and use the equipment while wearing the proper clothes, you'll be transformed and successful.

Most of the workshop participants owned at least one piece of fitness equipment that was purchased, tried out, disliked and sits gathering dust.

"You bought the prescription," Segar said, "but found out it didn't work for you. Now you feel like a failure," she added, likening the experience to learning how to play a ring-toss game.

"You're given the ring and told to toss it to a specific spot. You try and miss several times. 'Forget it,' you say. 'This isn't for me.' Our experience with exercise is the same."

There is one other barrier facing women in establishing and maintaining an exercise routine--"caretakeritis" Segar calls it--that can more difficult to overcome. This is the societal training women receive that says they must be everything for the family. Many women find taking time out for themselves, at the expense of doing something for other family members, difficult to justify or arrange.

"You need to give permission to yourself to have 'my time,'" Segar said. And you have to designate that time and work it into your schedule. Yes, that personal time may cause unrest among friends and family, but women who seriously want to pursue an exercise routine have to make the decision that this is important to them, and then take steps to make it a reality.


Tips for getting started on an exercise routine

To give your decision to embark on an exercise program the best chance of success, you need to do a bit of advance planning and preparation, says Michelle Segar, who specializes in helping women maintain fitness through her National Center for Women and Wellness.

First, sit down and take stock of the resources you need: what you want to do (run, jog, swim, etc.), where you'll do it, equipment or special clothing that might be required, time to do it.

Next, pull out a piece of paper and write down what you hope to gain from an exercise session, as well as the kinds of activities you might undertake to get those benefits.

To get started, choose just one of the activities, figure out what resources you need and where you can do it. Then determine all the possible times during the week when you can do it, remembering that it need not be a 30-minute or one-hour time slot. The recommendation is for 30 accumulated minutes per day.

Pick the three best time slots for the week and determine what arrangements you might have to make for that time slot to be feasible--checking with your boss for an extra 15 minutes at lunch, checking with your spouse about child care.

While you're at it, put down some alternative time slots, so if something unexpected and unavoidable comes up and prevents you from following your original plan, you have a fall-back and won't have to feel as though not doing it at the first appointed time equals failure.

Schedule the activity on your calendar or planner and make the necessary contacts.

Then go out and enjoy your "my time."