• More sedentary women had higher expectations about fitness
  • They felt that ‘valid’ exercise must be intense and frequent, a study shows
  • Meanwhile more active women held more flexible views of exercise
  • They felt it ‘was not the end of the world’ if they skipped a work out occasionally
  • Current fitness messages ‘harm exercise motivation’, claims researcher

Claudia Tanner For Mailonline



Many of us are guilty of starting fitness routines we never stick to over the long term.

Now new research provides an insight into why we wimp out on workouts – and how we can reprogram our mindset to make more lasting changes. 

A new study analyzed women’s activity levels, expectations and beliefs about exercise and their feelings about what makes them feel happy and successful.

It found that women who were less active had higher expectations of themselves to exercise more intensely and more frequently – which actually thwarted their motivation. 

‘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,’ said researcher Michelle Segar from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.

‘Even though there are newer recommendations that permit lower intensity activity in shorter durations most people don’t know or even believe it.’

The more sedentary women in the Michigan study believed ‘valid’ exercise must be punishing

She says we need to rethink the traditional fitness messages we receive – as it has generally failed to increase physical activity for the majority of people.

‘This traditional approach to exercising might actually harm exercise motivation. 

‘Our study shows that this exercise message conflicts with and undermines the very experiences and goals most women have for themselves.’

The team conducted eight focus groups among white, black and Hispanic women aged 22-49 who were either categorized as ‘high active’ or ‘low active.’

While both groups shared the same beliefs about happiness and success, low-active women held distinctly different views than high-active women about exercising.

The high-active women seemed to have more positive feelings from exercising, in contrast to most of the low-active women, who, in general, tended to dread the very idea of it. 


Nichola Whitehead, Ramsay Health Care UK’s specialist nutritionist, has summed up the ten most common weight loss misconceptions – and how to avoid them.

1. Eating ‘low fat’ food – Don’t let marketing ploys fool you; a healthy biscuit is still a biscuit and may contain as many calories and as much sugar as the standard version. 

2. Choosing cardio and avoiding weights – Lifting weights is one of the most effective exercise strategies for gaining muscle and increasing metabolic rate.

3. An hour on the treadmill over a 15-minute HIIT routine – Short bouts of high intensity is more time efficient and can bring about rapid beneficial changes in metabolic function and even reductions in body fat.

4. Not sleeping enough – Participants who sleep for less than 6 hours a night consume more calories the next day than those who sleep for 7 to 8 hours a night, a study shows.

5. Setting unrealistic goals – Set mini-goals you can reach within a month or so.

6. Focusing on weight loss rather than fat loss – Take photographs of your weight loss progress, as well as tracking inches.

7. Not drinking enough water – Staying hydrated is essential when it comes to facilitating fat loss. 

8. Weighing yourself too often – It can negatively impact your motivation. 

9. Eating too little – If you don’t eat enough calories then it can start to slow down to conserve energy.

10. Not eating enough protein – Consume at least 0.8g per Kg body weight a day or more if you’re exercising or wanting to lose weight.

The more sedentary women felt that ‘valid’ exercise must be intense, found the research, which will appear in the journal BMC Public Health.

They also feel pressured to exercise for health or to lose weight, yet during their leisure time they wanted to be free of pressures.

These women believed success comes from achieving goals, yet their expectations about how much, where and how they should be exercising means they can’t achieve these goals, researchers explained. 

‘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,’ Segar said. 

‘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.’ 

Meanwhile, the more active participants held more flexible views of exercise, it was revealed.

This group expressed that it ‘was not the end of the world’ if they had to skip exercising once in awhile. 

These women made exercise more of a ‘middle priority,’ which took the pressure off and left room for compromise when schedules and responsibilities did not permit planned exercise to occur, say the researchers. 

‘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 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.’  

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