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The Journal Gazette

Monday, May 08, 2017 1:00 am

Support can boost exercise motivation

Washington Post

Despite national guidelines that recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity each week for major health benefits plus strength work such as weights or push-ups, only about half of American adults get enough aerobic exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 30 percent get no physical activity in their spare time.

Even when intentions are good, about half of people who start exercise programs drop out within the first six months, says Rodney Dishman, an exercise scientist at the University of Georgia in Athens. After two years, Dishman says, 80 percent have given up. Those numbers haven't budged over three decades of research, he adds.

Researchers have found plenty of reasons for quitting, including waning motivation, lack of easy access to exercise facilities or walkable neighborhoods, and false expectations about how quickly results will appear.

Injury and discomfort are other common excuses, says Jack Raglin, an exercise psychologist at Indiana University in Bloomington.

To get folks to keep coming back, many fitness studios work to create an enticing environment, often with an emphasis on community, even peer pressure, and competition. In Minneapolis, a studio called The Firm boasts, “We make working out an event, driven by pride, passion and love, building community one name at a time.”

There's no publicly available data to show whether the community-building – or the guilt – works. But social support can be a powerful motivational tool, some research suggests.

Raglin's research, for example, has found that, when people enrolled in an exercise program with a spouse, more than 90 percent stuck with it for a year – compared with slightly more than half of those who enrolled alone. When one member of a couple drops out, though, the other usually does, too, Raglin says. That echoes other research showing that friends and family can enhance or sabotage exercise rates.

And not everyone responds the same way to social pressure. In a 2016 study, British researchers found that CrossFit members reported a greater sense of “community belongingness” than did people who went to traditional gyms. But overall, the two groups exercised the same amount, suggesting that people who like to exercise with others may simply seek out more-social gyms.

“It either works,” Raglin says, “or it backfires.”