‘I Don’t Know How to Get Exercise’

Researchers find women in different demographic groups have diverse opinions and methods of executing a regular exercise routine.


Much research has been devoted to the importance of exercise and finding out how to get people to exercise more. Yet > 1 in 4 American adults over the age of 50 do not engage in physical activity, according to a CDC report. Women are more likely to be inactive than men (30% vs 26%), and inactivity is highest in the South (30%) and Midwest (28%), although the Northeast (27%) and West (23%) followed closely.

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A study of 110 women living in rural southern Illinois may help clarify the reasons for inactivity. The women, divided into 4 age groups, participated in focus groups held in various community settings across 7 counties.

The women talked about engaging in physical activity to relieve chronic pain, manage illness, improve mental health, and feel more energetic. However, they also talked about the barriers to being physically active, such as not knowing how to fit exercise into their lives.

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When the researchers analyzed responses by age, they found that young women did not describe exercise as an activity to do with other women. For them, work, household, and family commitments competed with social activities, including those associated with physical activity. Older women, on the other hand, might be more inclined to spend time in activity-related groups, such as walking groups, to spend time with others. But all of the women over the age of 30 described physical and mental health challenges that interfered with being active.

Younger women and mothers also were more likely to be interested in spaces for outdoor recreation, where they could be active with their children. Older women rarely discussed outdoor resources; perhaps because they had more flexible schedules that allowed for structured groups and more affordable options due to senior discounts, the researchers suggest.

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By understanding the multifactorial reasons for why women aren’t getting enough exercise, the researchers speculate that it might be possible to develop interventions that reduce the barriers and “capitalize on what motivates women at different times in their lives.”

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