This article reviews recent research into how people who are clinically overweight view the experience of exercise at fitness clubs, versus individuals whose weight is within the normal range. The research was conducted with the idea of examining why so many individuals who are overweight have difficulty engaging in the very behavior that would best impact the issue (the article notes that only 30% of people considered clinically overweight meet the NIH guidelines for weekly exercise).
According to the research, overweight individuals believed exercise improved appearance and self-image more than individuals with normal weight. However, overweight individuals also reported feeling more embarrassment and intimidation when it came to exercise in general, exercising in front of younger people, and exercising in the presence of fitter individuals. There were no differences between the groups when it came to feelings regarding complicated exercises, exercising in front of members of the opposite sex, boredom with exercise, or intention to exercise.
According to these results, it is not attitude about exercise per se that accounts for differing participation levels:
Writing in the article, the authors state, "One of the most noteworthy findings of this study was that OW [overweight] and NW [normal weight] subjects did not differ in their overall attitude toward exercising at a health club. This similarity in overall attitude of the OW and NW to club exercise is somewhat surprising, in that it is often assumed that OW people do not exercise as much as NW people because the 2 groups have different attitudes about exercise.
The article goes on to point out that it is a positive attitude versus negative attitude issue that needs to be addressed, in order to facilitate more consistent fitness participation, rather than simply assuming overweight individuals do not have positive thoughts regarding exercise.
Personally, I see the value in this research, as I think this is the same issue everyone tends to deal with, but with perhaps a stronger "negative" thinking pattern to overcome. Many people, regardless of fitness level and motivation, tend to run into periods in their life where the negative thoughts begin to outweigh the positive with respect to exercise, and many fitness books and magazines (not to mention more formal therapeutic efforts) will devote some writing to strategies designed to overcome creeping negativity, such as scheduling workouts with a fitness partner in order to overcome thinking that might otherwise lead to skipping a workout. In the case of individuals with weight issues, it is important to recognize the additional issues that contribute to negative thinking about exercise (especially in a gym or club), and enact strategies designed to overcome these additional issues (i.e. the negative thoughts about exercising in front of fitter individuals).