two women walking through a park

Why punishing exercise demotivates women

For many women, getting into a fitness routine to lose weight and staying in one for a long time is difficult.

They started the fitness programs and when they don’t lose weight they stop exercising often feeling like a failure. After a year or so with renewed enthusiasm they start with exercise again and as such the cycle continues.

It seems that exercise routines in women are linked to what they feel about exercise and what makes them happy and successful according to a new study from the National Cancer Institute.

A study was designed to understand the nature of women’s’ daily goals and priorities and to investigate their beliefs, feelings and experiences around physical activity so as to identify how exercise fosters or undermines their daily goals and priorities.

Traditional views which have been inculcated in our lives regarding exercise – 30 minutes of intense exercise for losing weight or keeping healthy – has worked for few women but a majority of them are demotivated.

Eight focus groups were conducted with white, black and Hispanic/Latina women aged 22-49 years old. They were grouped according to self-reported physical activity with 29 low-active women and 11 high-active participants.

The participants discussed their goals, values, beliefs and daily priorities along with their feeling and experience about being physically active.
All the data collected was coded and analysed using a thematic analysis strategy to identify emerging themes.

Four themes emerged characterizing women’s daily sources of happiness: (1) Connecting with others, (2) Being of service to others, (3) Participating in leisure activities and hobbies, and 4) Feeling relaxed and free from daily pressures.

Both high active and low active women shared the same themes for feeling happy and successful which generally seems to be derived from experiences such as relating and connecting with others and being free and relaxed during their leisure time as well as of being service to others.

Three themes were identified concerning contributors to success: (1) Contributing to the success and happiness of others, (2) Accomplishing goals, and (3) Professional achievement. Across these themes, feelings of success generally derived from helping others accomplish their goals, accomplishing their own goals, and from seeing the impact of their efforts on others.

In general, women were happy when they engaged with others and participated in their preferred activities and felt successful when they felt competent and effective in their daily roles and responsibilities, especially when they made a difference to someone’s life.

The study also found that the beliefs and expectations around exercise in low-active women actually opposed the things that made them feel happy and successful.

They believed the exercise should be intense and for the “right” amount of time and they often felt pressured to exercise to lose weight or for their health and yet they wanted to feel relaxed and free of pressure during their leisure time.

This conflict in low active women between what they believed they should be doing regarding exercise, what their feeling are about exercise and their desire to decompress and relax during leisure time, demotivates them from any physical activity.

Their past experiences about exercise and what they think should be proper exercise stops them from leading physically active lives.

The study also showed that high-active women had more positive feelings from exercise, making it less of a priority and thereby releasing the pressure they put on themselves. In contrast low-active women tended to dread the very idea of exercise.

Traditional views which have been inculcated in our lives regarding exercise – 30 minutes of intense exercise for losing weight or keeping healthy – has worked for few women but a majority of them have been demotivated.

It’s important to find ways to motivate women and help them prioritise physical activity in ways that will motivate them to want to exercise. It also helps to educate them that any movement, like walking their dog, is better than no movement.

So taking a leisurely walk with your friends definitely counts and gives you immense benefits while you relax and enjoy your time.

Source: BMC Public Health

Meena Azzollini

Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!

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