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Fitness Exercise - Exercise and First Impressions

Do you exercise? If so, people see you as ''a harder worker, more confident, and [as having] more self-control'' than non-exercisers, according to a recent issue of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Dr. Kathleen A. Martin and colleagues at McMaster University in Ontario asked 627 Canadian men and women to rate the personality and physical attributes of individuals based on a brief description that included the person's gender and exercise habits.

Unlike exercisers, who were perceived to be healthy, muscular and sexually attractive, non-exercisers were perceived to be sickly, scrawny, and sexually unattractive.

Non-exercisers were also believed to have fewer friends and be less smart, brave, neat and happy.

Why such radical differences in perception? ''We suspect that knowledge of the physical benefits of exercise had a positive effect on raters' impressions of exercisers' physical attributes,'' researchers write.

These results complicate the problem of trying to get people to exercise: If they know exercise is beneficial and can make someone healthier and more sexually attractive, why don't most people exercise regularly?

In an earlier study, Martin and her team found that negative stereotypes of overweight women could be overcome if a woman was thought of as an exerciser.

She urges people to ''be aware that there are potent social benefits associated with exercise - that is, people will think more positively of you just by virtue of your exercise habits.''

Source: Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 2000; 22, 283-291.