Why It's Harder to Exercise When You Feel Judged

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(Image credit: Inger Anne Hulbækdal/Shutterstock)

People who feel that they've been judged because of their weight are less likely to exercise than those who don't feel judged, a new study from England finds. 

Those who felt they were discriminated against were 60 percent more likely to be inactive, and 30 percent less likely to report exercising at least once a week, compared with those who didn't report such feelings, according to the study.

The findings highlight one example of how feelings of discrimination can affect people's health.

In the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 5,400 men and women ages 50 and older living in England who had responded to survey questions about their exercise habits and feelings of discrimination. The participants were a part of a long-running study called the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which began in 2002. [Top 10 Stigmatized Health Disorders]

About 5 percent of the people in study reported that they had been discriminated against because of their weight, the researchers found. When the researchers focused on specific weight categories, they found that the more people weighed, the more likely they were to report feeling discrimination against. For example, just under 1 percent of people who were overweight reported that they had felt that they were the target of discrimination, compared with more than 13 percent of people who were obese.

The researchers found that among the people in the study who reported feeling discriminated against, 10 percent said they did no regular physical activity and 18 percent said they did only light physical activity at least once a week. Rates of inactivity and light activity were comparatively lower in the group that did not report feelings of discrimination, at 8 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

The researchers noted that feelings of discrimination played a larger role in whether a person was physically active than the person's actual body mass index. People who felt discriminated against were less likely to exercise, regardless of their weight, according to the study.

"People who have experienced weight-related discrimination may lack the confidence to exercise in public," lead study author Sarah Jackson, a research associate in epidemiology and public health at University College London, said in a statement. "They may also begin to believe the negative stereotypes against themselves as lazy and worthless, leaving them wondering why should bother trying to be active," she said.

"Given the substantial benefits of being physically active for both physical and mental health, interventions that aim to reduce weight bias" — in other words, decrease discrimination — "may have greater impact on health than those that encourage people to lose weight," Jackson said.

The study was published March 7 in the journal BMJ Open.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.