Attitude about exercise

March 15, 2002

ANN ARBOR---Adolescent girls who feel confident about their physical abilities enjoy exercise more than those girls who go into the activity doubting their skills, according to a study to be published in the March issue of Nursing Research.

Girls who are not confident that they can complete an activity, such as running or biking a certain distance, are likely to become discouraged by feeling exertion during exercise and to take it as a signal that they are not up to the task. By contrast, confident girls interpret the physical cues of exertion as challenges they can overcome, and they feel good about pushing through the physical strain.

"We think something is going on in self talk and that some girls are better at self distraction," said Nola Pender, principal investigator in the study. Pender recently retired as associate dean at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

The research builds on a program of research led by Edward McAuley at University of Illinois that looked at perceived exertion and confidence levels in adults. Pender's work showed that adolescent girls' perceptions and responses to exercise tracked with the adults.

About 100 girls were studied, ages 8 to 17, with fitness level and percent of body fat controlled in the analysis. Key findings included:Based on these findings, Pender and Lorraine Robbins, assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Nursing, are developing an interactive computer program aimed at building exercise confidence in adolescent girls. The program, funded by an $84,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, aims to find activities a girl likes and thinks she can do, then build upon those tasks to boost confidence, increase physical activity and promote physical fitness.

Pender and Robbins want to encourage young people to exercise for a whole host of reasons, including developing behaviors they will carry with them into adulthood and combating obesity, which is a growing problem for adolescents. Pender notes that young people's diets are laden with fat at the same time they are less physically active than past generations, and that combination can lead to diseases like diabetes as well as poor self image and depression.

Pender takes inspiration from Healthy People 2010, a set of national goals managed by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National health objectives include reduction of sedentary lifestyles and the resulting overweight and obesity among young people (
Pender conducted the study with Oded Bar-Or, Boguslaw Wilk and Sarah Mitchell, all of McMaster University, with funding from a $15,000 sabbatical grant from U-M.

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