Are any of your female clients or participants exercising solely to lose weight? A recent study out of the University of Michigan indicates that this mindset is detrimental to maintaining a consistent, long-term regime. The study, reported in the journal Sex Roles, found that women who exercise for a body- shape motive, such as wanting to lose weight or to become toned, spend about 40% less time exercising than women who exercise for non-body-shape motives, such as reducing stress, increasing a sense of well-being or intrinsically enjoying the activity for its own sake.

The women, all in their mid-40s, reported how much they exercised in a typical week. Nearly half (44%) said they exercised to lose weight, maintain weight and/or tone their bodies. Here are some additional findings:

  • Walking was an exercise choice for only 16% of women with a body-shape motivation, compared to 55% of women with non-body-shape motives.
  • Among women with a body-shape motivation, 52% reported taking classes and going to gyms/fitness centers; the same was true for only 12% of women with non-body-shape motives.
  • Women who exercised for body-shaping reasons participated in higher-intensity activities. They also selected activities that fit into the more traditional definition of exercise—more formal and structured—with the idea that they had to go somewhere for it to count as exercise.

“Women tend to pick something structural like a class, and they quit when the class is over, or they jog because an event is coming up and quit after the event,” said Michelle Segar, a University of Michigan psychology researcher, in a press release. “But something like walking regularly can help more long-term. You don’t have to sweat for exercise to count.”