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The exercise hook: It's different for men and women

Consistent exercise habits are linked to different factors for men and women, according to IU researchers. In their recent study of college students, Bryan Stednitz and Chris Arvin found that sticking to an exercise program was associated with a number of factors for women, including confidence using exercise equipment, positive body image, and a preference for aerobic exercise such as running or swimming.

For men there was one clear influence on keeping up a workout regimen: strength training.

Weight lifting

IU researchers say that consistent exercise habits are linked to different factors for men and women.

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"Among the men we surveyed, lifting weights appeared to be the major factor associated with consistent workout habits," said Stednitz, the assistant director for strength and conditioning and personal training at IUB's Division of Recreational Sports. Men who incorporated strength training into their workouts were more likely to stick to a routine than men who engaged only in aerobic exercise.

"Women who lifted weights were also consistent exercisers," Stednitz said. "But unlike men, women who did mostly aerobic activities were also steady about going to the gym."

Women who reported feelings of confidence using exercise equipment and positive body image were also more likely to be consistent exercisers. These factors did not appear to affect exercise adherence in men.

"We were surprised to see such a difference between men and women," Stednitz said. "Our findings suggest that it might take a different approach for women to stay motivated to work out as opposed to men."

Stednitz added that men may not report feelings of insecurity with their bodies or lack of familiarity with equipment due to social expectations.

"I think men are less comfortable talking about insecurities, but in practice we have seen that men and women share the same concerns about developing a workout program," he said. "People who hire personal trainers want coaching and reassurance, regardless of gender."

Besides hiring a personal trainer, Stednitz recommended trying group exercise classes that offer a mix of aerobic and strength activities. These classes are offered at beginning to advanced levels and can help participants develop skills using different types of equipment. He also noted that many gyms now offer smaller, separate workout spaces without mirrors that may be more comfortable for self-conscious exercisers.