Afraid to fly? It may not be rational, since airplanes are quite safe, but to people who have that phobia, it defies rationality. Researchers from the Center for Obesity Research and Education and the department of kinesiology at Temple University say the same psychological barrier may inhibit some obese women from exercising.
Much like a crippling worry that arachnophobes have about spiders, the research presented at the Obesity Society's Annual Meeting on October 5th says some obese women face a barrier when it comes to exercise that normal weight women do not.
"This is the first time we've been able to systematically look at what stops obese women from getting the activity they need," said Melissa Napolitano, associate professor of kinesiology and clinical psychologist at the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University.
Napolitano and her team surveyed data collected from 278 women, both normal weight and obese, enrolled in a yearlong physical activity encouragement study. At baseline, and at a 3- and 12-month follow up, all participants were administered a questionnaire to determine what factors kept them from getting exercise, including:
- Feeling self-conscious;
- Not wanting to fail;
- Fearing injury;
- Perceived poor health
- Having minor aches or pains
- Feeling too overweight to exercise.
At all time points, obese women reported greater barriers to being active than normal weight women. For obese women, barriers they identified at the beginning of the study predicted how much or how little they would be exercising at the 12 month follow-up.
"These might sound like excuses to some people, but for those who have these aversions, they're real problems," said Napolitano.
She theorizes that tailoring programs to maneuver around these barriers is the key to curbing some of that aversion and improving adherence to a weight loss goal. She cites the popular Curves® gyms as a step in the right direction, because they offer a comforting, welcoming environment for women to exercise in.
"There is an underlying attitude about weight loss, that it's easy if you just eat less and exercise more," she said. "But if losing weight were easy, we wouldn't have the obesity epidemic we have today."