The Pleasure Principle: Women, Exercise, and Motivation

Breakfast Seminar - December 12, 2000

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Breaking Down Barriers to Better Health

"How much would pay for a drug that & reduces anxiety and stress, enhances quality of life, boosts immunity, and prevents weight gain typically associated with aging?" asks Michelle Segar, MS, MPH. Ms. Segar, president of the National Center for Women and Wellness, says exercise is that drug. Still, many people dont exercise enough, and women are more likely to be inactive than men.

In her talk "The Pleasure Principle: Women, Exercise, and Motivation," at a Jacobs Institute breakfast seminar December 12 in Washington, DC, Ms. Segar described cultural barriers that keep women from exercising regularly. She also outlined a program developed to address those barriers.

Research shows women tend to focus on maintaining relationships, said Ms. Segar, and that can take priority over "self-care." She points to a study she conducted of exercise among breast cancer survivors: almost all the participants said exercise improved their self esteem, and almost all quit exercising regularly within 3 months of the studys conclusion. Why? Because they had to do the laundry, clean the house, drive the kids to soccer practice, etc. "It had nothing to do with being a breast cancer survivor and everything to do with female roles and responsibilities in our culture," said Ms. Segar.

When women say they have no time for exercise, Ms. Segar points out this can sometimes act as a smokescreen for other barriers. Much of what would be considered "free" time is dedicated to taking care of others needs.

In addition, before Title IX was enacted in 1972, girls and young women generally were not encouraged to participate in sports or physical activities and had few opportunities to do so. Thus, many women are not comfortable with exercise or do not see it as fun, Ms. Segar believes.

Ms. Segar called "the perfect body principle" another common barrier to women. While no one can prove media images of very thin women discourage women from exercising, as Ms. Segar put it, "They probably dont help." Such images, often used in advertising for diet, health, and fitness products, may spur women to take up exercise, but Ms. Segar believes they actually hinder women from continuing to exercise when they dont achieve the "perfect" figure as a result. Further, she pointed out, the fitness industrys largest profits come when consumers start an exercise program and not from those who continue to exercise over the long term.

In response, Ms. Segar developed Fitting in Fitness for Life® (FIF), a program that educates women about cultural barriers to exercise and helps them overcome them, encouraging the participants to exercise on their own. It has four components:

Meaning: Create a personalized meaning for exercise, one that you enjoy and feel motivated to do, one that is about giving to yourself.

Awareness: Become aware of the beliefs and expectations about exercise that prevent you from deriving pleasure and/or from doing it.

Permission: Give yourself permission to change those beliefs that hinder your enjoyment of physical activity, permission to make self-care activities a high priority.

Strategy: Experiment with new activities and "try on" new attitudes. Learn new skills for activities that will be fun and give you pleasure and joy.

The "permission" component, said Ms. Segar, is "huge." She noted, "Permission is the point of decision, the point where you take responsibility for what you believe and why." The program also focuses on integrating light physical activity into ones daily life.

Ms. Segar evaluated FIF participants and found 514 months after the program had ended, participants on average increased the amount of regular exercise they did, with the largest increases in light exercise. Most importantly, said Ms. Segar, her study showed participants had managed to maintain the average increases over a long period. "If we want women to remain physically active," said Ms. Segar in an interview, "we have to give them a realistic perspective. We have to help them work light exercise into their daily lives and show them how to overcome the barriers they face."

Ms. Segar passed on some comments from participants:

"You know, I think my attitude changed in that you can do a little bit lots of times rather than having to do a lot all at once, and you can think in those terms and grab every opportunity that you see until you can get the time in, which I think is one of the most important concepts in this class."

"It wasnt a guilt trip&. I felt like I was given permission to exercise at the level I was able."

"I thought, Im going to take a walk, not I have to take a walk today, thinking about it as something for me to enjoy rather than one more thing on my list."

The comments reflect the goals of the FIF program. Individuals "take responsibility for their daily choices and priorities," said Ms. Segar. The intention is to help each person "develop internal motivationpleasure, joy, giving to self," which, in turn, "removes the harmful hit-or-miss, success-or-failure dichotomy," noted Ms. Segar.

To learn more about FIF, call Michelle Segar at (734)995-9807 or e-mail her at .

A Tip for Better Health

Take a (Very Long) Walk

Making exercise a daily part of life may seem like a tall order, but heres a very simple approach: count every step you take, every day. HealthPartners, a health insurance provider based in Minneapolis, created the 10,000 Steps program to do just that. Participants use a special pedometer, action planner, and step-tracker log to count and record the number of steps they take each day. The goal is to reach 10,000 steps each daythe equivalent of 30 minutes of physical activity. The 8-week program shows you how to build more steps into your day.

The program is $20 for HealthPartners members, $30 for nonmembers. Prices include tax, shipping, and handling. For more details, visit the HealthPartners web site at, click on "Health Information and Resources," then "Healthy Living," then "Get Active." To register, call the Partners for Better Health® Phone Line at (952) 883-7800 or 1-800-311-1052. People with hearing impairments may call (952) 883-7498 (TDD).


To view the Surgeon Generals Report on Physical Activity and Health, go to, click on "Health Topics A-Z," then "Physical Activity and Health." The page also includes fact sheets specifically for women, people with disabilities, and various age groups.

Go to the web site of the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness ( to download free pamphlets on fitness, including the Nolan Ryan Fitness Guide and Pep Up Your Life: A Fitness Book for Mid-life and Older Persons.

For research on physical activity, see these articles in Womens Health Issues:

Physical activity and psychological well-being in older women (Gill, Williams, Williams, Butki, & Kim, 1997; 7 [1]: 39)*

Physical activity and exercise: A first step to health promotion and disease prevention in women of all ages (Wiest & Lyle, 1997; 7 [1]: 1016)

The benefits of physical activity on coronary heart disease and coronary heart disease risk factors in women (Garber, 1997; 7 [1]: 1723)

Older women and physical activity: Using the Telephone to walk (Jarvis, Friedman, Heeren , & Cullinane, 1997; 7 [1]: 2429)

A comparison of a mind/body approach versus a conventional approach to aerobic dance (Kerr & Baker, 1997; 7 [1]: 3037)

National Leadership Conference on Physical Activity and Womens Health (1998;8[2]:6997)

The role of physical activity in minority populations (Kriska & Rexroad, 1998; 8 [2]: 98103)

Tailoring interventions to promote physically active lifestyles in women (Marcus & Forsyth, 1998;8[2]:104111)

*Winner, annual manuscript prize (Gibbs Leadership Award)

You can order back issues of Womens Health Issues by calling the Jacobs Institute at 202-863-4900, or through our web site at


American Association of Retired Persons -

Offers helpful health and wellness web page with tips for getting and staying fit.

American College of Sports Medicine -

This site is oriented toward research and issues in sports and physical fitness.

American Council on Exercise -

Offers books and information on exercise and weight loss; see the ACE Fit Facts on choosing an exercise video, among others, and also ACE Health E-Tips.

American Heart Association -

Gives useful consumer information; for example, click on "Exercise" and check out "Physical Activity in your Daily Life" and "Exercise Success Tips."

The Melpomene Institute -

Raises awareness about physical activity and health through research, education, and publications; see their employee fitness program research project, Taking Time to Move.

National Black Nurses Association -

The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Exercise -

Provides useful information for exercisers and exercise leaders with free resources you can download.

Video Fitness -

Sponsors a free user video exchange; plus, individual users review videos and tell you where to find bargains.