Originally created 06/19/97

Women find exercise helps relieve stress



Three hours a week, Marie Jackson battles The Abductor and loves it.

Sweat sprinkling her brow and spotting her shirt, she works out on the The Abductor and other weight machines in a crowded room of Health Central on Broad Street in Augusta.

Mrs. Jackson, 37, and her husband, Scott, alternate days picking up the children so that one of them can go to the gym after work. It also means she must juggle other chores at home, but it's worth it, she said.

"It would have been real easy to drive straight home today," she said. "(But) it helps to relieve our stress and gives us some free time alone. I'm a much nicer person when I go home if I've worked out."

Research shows that women make up more than half of the health club memberships in the country. Besides the benefits they see in their own bodies, 92 percent of women who work out believe it helps in their careers, according to the Women's Sports Foundation.

"It refreshes you," said Sara Molen, 55, who drives straight from her department manager job at Carraway, Cohen and Channell Insurance Agency to teach a water aerobics class at the YWCA. "You get the benefits of the exercise and the fellowship and the relaxation of working off stress."

Women tend to rely on a wide range of exercises to keep fit, while men generallystick to weights and running, according to Stephanie Bailey, a certified personal trainer at Health Central.

Men tend to shun other cardiovascular exercise to concentrate on building up muscle, said Marion Deering, aquatics director for the YWCA. "It's a manly thing," she said.

Women want to burn fat and calories, Ms. Bailey said. The YWCA touts water aerobics as "sweatless aerobics," a better way to exercise without stress on the joints.

"It's getting more and more popular," Ms. Deering said. "I really feel like water aerobics and swimming are going to become (the most popular exercises) in the next year or two."

Walking, running and other "weight-bearing" forms of exercise strengthen bones and help ward off osteoporosis, said Eric Marcano, a certified athletic trainer with MCG's Center for Sports Medicine.

"That helps a lot, especially with older women," he said.

It can also help lower the risk of cancer. A Harvard University study found that physically active women were 2.5 times less likely to develop cervical cancer because physical activity helps to maintain proper levels of hormones thought to be linked to those cancers.

Exercise also pays off at home, said Mrs. Jackson, a clinical pharmacist at University Hospital.

"This isn't an option in my life. This is a have-to-be," she said. "I do this to keep up with my children."

But like many women, taking care of stress and boosting energy were secondary concerns for Mrs. Jackson. One reason she came back to the gym was to lose the 30 pounds she gained before giving birth to her second child four months ago.

It's that way with many women who return to the gym, said Ms. Bailey. "The majority of women I see want to lose inches," said Ms. Bailey, grabbing a slim handful of her waist. "Most women will have a target, and they'll say, `I want to lose this."'

That may be the darker motivation behind the exercise craze among women. Women tend to be dissatisfied with their bodies, particularly the lower half, said Christian Lemmon, a clinical psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia. Women, especially those with eating disorders, "tend to see themselves as more pear-shaped than they really are," he said. Among girls 13 to 18 years old, 82 percent think their ideal weight is less than what they currently weigh, and about 40-60 percent of women share the same view, Dr. Lemmon said.

Much of this could be attributed to the ideal figure society perpetuates of women, a figure much slimmer than reality, Dr. Lemmon said.

"How many fat women do you see on TV? How many fat women do you see in movies?" he asked. "Society doesn't put the same pressure on men as it does on women."

The best way to deal with that pressure apparently is to work it off.