Most people can relate to the difficulty of starting a new workout plan, only to feel discouraged when they don’t see progress. For some, feeling like a failure in this situation can lead to them kicking exercise to the curb altogether, only to try again later on and encounter the same issue.
A new study done at the University of Michigan and funded by the National Cancer Institute may have found a few reasons why this cycle continues for some women.
To start, researchers looked into what makes both active and inactive women happy. They found regardless of activity level, things that make women happy include connecting with and helping others be happy and successful, feeling free of pressure and relaxed during leisure time, and accomplishing both short- and long-term goals.
What differs, however, is the way that the women perceive exercise. Inactive women believe that to be “valid,” exercise has to be intense, and that gets in the way of the relaxed downtime that all women value. Feeling pressured to exercise conflicts with relaxation, and not being able to make progress makes them feel like they’ve failed to accomplish a goal, further decreasing their overall happiness.
“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 University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center, told the University of Michigan’s Michigan News. “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 traditional, intense approach harms motivation for many people, Segar explained. Recent studies, however, have shown that lower-intensity exercise can be just as effective for maintaining health. Those ideas just haven’t stuck with much of the public yet, she said.
While fit women tend to view exercise in a positive light, the less fit women hate the idea of it. It’s just a matter of changing the way women view exercise to get the less fit more motivated to get at it.
“There are important implications from this study on how we can help women better prioritize exercise in their day-to-day life,” Segar said. “We need to re-educate women on how they can move in ways that will renew instead of exhaust them, and more effectively get the message across that any movement is better than nothing. To increase motivation to be physically active, we need to help women to want to exercise instead of feeling like they should do it.”