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'Just Do It' Attitude Works With Exercise

Zero Tolerance for Excuses Cited by Middle-Aged Exercisers
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WebMD Health News

May 6, 2005 -- Thinking about making exercise part of your life? Just lace up your shoes and get out there, and don't give your brain time to hem and haw about it.

That's what successful middle-aged exercisers say they do. Their approach is outlined in May's issue of Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

In the words of two women in the study: "I don't think about it. Just do it," and "If you think about it, you can talk yourself out of it."

Active people ignored their brain's chatter and made exercise a non-negotiable part of their day, write researchers from Canada's University of Alberta, including Sandra O'Brien Cousins, PhD, professor emeritus of physical education and recreation.

Everyone's Got an Excuse

Cousins and colleagues heard everything but "the dog ate my sneakers" in their in-depth phone interviews about exercise with 40 Canadians (20 men and 20 women) aged 42-77.

Job pressures, tired feet, health concerns, age, boredom, bad weather, and even worries about a flasher in the neighborhood were cited by participants.

It's not that the exercisers had fewer stresses. They just worked out anyway, without thinking about it. They even avoided mental pep talks about fitness, deciding to be active, no matter what crossed their minds.

"Active people claimed that they, or someone else, could easily talk themselves out of their planned and regular physical activity" says the study.

Physical inactivity has been associated with the risk of obesity and chronic medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Few Americans are exercising these days -- at work or in their leisure time. A national health objective for 2010 is to decrease the rates of no leisure-time physical activity to 20%. According to the CDC, the prevalence of no leisure-time physical activity peaked in 1989 at approximately 32% and was stable until 1996, after which it declined an average of 1% per year to 25% in 2002.

Younger participants were more active than older ones. Middle-aged men had more physically demanding jobs and therefore only contemplated leisure-time physical activity. Middle-aged women were more active in getting leisure-time exercise.

Health and self-care were strong motivators for women age 40-55. They said they wanted to enjoy exercise and feel successful at it.

One woman said she exercised first thing in the morning "so that you can't talk yourself out of it." Another said she wished her husband would come along but exercised by herself anyway.

Age could be an obstacle or an inspiration. "As you get older, your health gets worse, so you have got to keep up activities to stay healthy," one woman said.

Middle-Aged Men: Good Intentions

The middle-aged men in the survey could be best described as "high active" at work and "low active" at play, says Cousins.

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