A new study from the University of Michigan has found that the best way for women to stick to exercise is to choose something they actually enjoy, rather than for the sole purpose of losing weight.
Funded internally by the National Cancer Institute, the new small-scale study asked 40 women aged 22-49 to say what makes them feel happy and successful in life, and how this relates to their exercise goals.
"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," said Michelle Segar, director of the University of Michigan's Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center.
The main answers given by women, who were categorized as "high active" or "low active," were connecting with and helping others be happy and successful, being relaxed and free of pressures during their leisure time, and accomplishing goals, which could range from that day's grocery shopping to career goals.
However, the team found that for the inactive women, their ideas about exercise actually prevented them from achieving the things that made them happy and successful, and this demotivated them to exercise.
For example, the inactive women believed that to be a "valid" form of exercise, exercise must be intense and hard work, which conflicted with their desire to feel relaxed during their leisure time.
The also feel pressured to exercise for health or to lose weight, but want to feel pressure-free during their leisure time.
In addition, part of their feeling of success comes from achieving goals; however, if they didn't meet their exercise goals then it stopped them feeling successful.
"The traditional recommendation we've learned to believe is that we should exercise at a high intensity for at least 30 minutes, for the purpose of losing weight or improving our health. Even though there are newer recommendations that permit lower intensity activity in shorter durations most people don't know or even believe it," she added.
The same results were not found for the active participants, who had more flexible views of exercise, and enjoyed it more. These women reported that it "was not the end of the world" if they had to skip a workout, and made exercise a "middle priority" rather than a top priority, reducing their pressure.
Segar now believes that women need to be "re-educated" on how they can get active in a way that they enjoy and doesn't demotivate or exhaust them, adding that the message to women should be that any movement is better than nothing.
The findings can be found online published in the journal BMC Public Health