Women and men respond differently to fitness appeals

science | Jun 11, 2012 | By Martin Barillas

A new study finds that men and women who are overweight responded differently to advertisements about the benefits to be gained from exercise. According to the study developed at the University of Michigan, it is "Daily well-being" that motivates women to exercise, while "weight loss" and "health" appear more likely to motivate men.

The UM researchers looked into whether reading a one-page advertisement featuring one of three reasons above would influence intrinsic motivation for exercising, and whether adult males and females respond differently. The study was conducted among 1,690 overweight and obese women and men between 40 and 60 years old.

"Exercise is frequently prescribed as a way to lose weight," said Michelle Segar, who is the associate director for the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy (SHARP) Center for Women and Girls and research investigator at UM's Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She added, "But promoting activity primarily for weight loss may backfire among overweight women. Our findings suggest that featuring weight loss as the reason to exercise not only decreases intrinsic motivation, it also worsens body image. This is not true for men."

Motivating men and women to become more physically active, messages may need to target each according to sex, said Segar. "For men, promoting exercise for weight loss or better health may be effective. But for women, messages might be more motivating if they highlighted the connection between exercise and well-being. We should consider rebranding exercise for women," Segar added.

Previous research shows that intrinsic motivation for exercising – finding pleasure in exercise – helps people stick with it. It also builds upon previous research that show  that obese and overweight women who exercise for immediately experienced benefits, such as well being, participate more than those who exercise for weight loss or health benefits. The findings of the most recent study appear in the Journal of Obesity's current special issue on Self-regulation, Motivation, and Psychosocial Factors in Weight Management.



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