A new Gallup survey shows that both men and women who have started regular exercise programs have also been strengthened in their careers and their personal lives:
*Health: About half of both sexes -- 45 percent of the men exercisers and 50 percent of the women -- say they have "felt sick less often than usual" since they started working out.
*Career benefits: About 44 percent of both groups report that they feel better about their careers. In general, those who stay in shape seem to function at a higher level of relaxed energy.
*Stress control: More than people who do not exercise, those who do report that they have "less stress" on the job and in their personal lives. More women (57 percent) report this benefit than men (52 percent), but both sexes share much the same feelings and results.
You get what you earn in sweat. Those who work out less than two hours a week are not as likely to feel a reduction in stress (45 percent of women, 43 percent of men). But for the 29 percent of exercisers who do five or more hours a week, two thirds of the women and the majority of men report less stress in their work and their personal lives. These sweat benefits have come to working women and men as a kind of surprise bonus -- one not widely expected when they started regular workouts.
Working Woman and American Health magazines commissioned the Gallup organization to do the study. The editors of both magazines theorized that executives and professionals were coming to depend upon workouts to manage stress and burnout.
That view was confirmed by an earlier study in this Gallup series. The pollsters had found that 62 percent of the men and women who work out report a major surge in energy. That figure rises even higher -- to 71 percent -- for those who exercise five hours a week or more.
Burnout has been studied by psychologists for about 10 years, but it is still a fairly vague term connected with loss of energy, creativity and purpose. One new fact is now clear. If burnout brings a decline in creativity on the job, then exercisers have found a partial solution to it. No less than 37 percent report a rise in their creativity at work after they start working out.
Although work benefits were thought to be one reason people took up exercise in the first place, the new research shows that millions of Americans working under acute stress do not know that relief is as near as the local health club. Exercise, it turns out, is a survival tactic for paper-chasers.
The reasons for going into exercise provide a study in irony. Substantially more than half of all Americans -- between 54 percent and 57 percent -- have joined what has been called the second fitness revolution. They choose to take on tough physical labor that they don't have to do to make a living: They work out in their off hours.
Among those who are employed full-time, even more work out -- 65 percent. But what pushes their buttons? In the new Gallup study of 1,033 adults age 18 or over, who were telephoned at their homes, general concern for health and weight control came through as primary reasons for starting to exercise. Women worry a bit more about weight than men, but the two big concerns combine. When asked, 75 percent of women exercisers and 59 percent of men said they began exercising because "you realized you were out of shape and/or overweight."
The survey also sought to determine how the energy surge and in-control feeling that exercise brings affects other aspects of life. Does it lead people to quit their jobs, rush back to college or decide to start over with a new mate? Not at all, Gallup pollsters report. The "life changes" the survey shows have more to do with health: Exercisers are more apt than their sedentary colleagues to improve their diet with more fruits and vegetables, give up smoking and generally build a solid new life style around health.
Like her male counterpart in the company gym or club, the woman who works out feels more confident, more attractive and noticeably more relaxed. Both husbands and wives report that their marriages are strengthened, not weakened. Some 20 percent say they feel closer to their love; only 4 percent feel more conflict. And in spite of the occasional marathoner who adds the stress of racing to that of the rat race, 45 percent report "a better love life" from exercise; only 1 percent say it's worse.
Nearly half of all Americans think that "people who exercise seriously become more confident and self-assured." And the more money a person makes and the more education he or she has, the stronger that feeling is. Joining the fitness revolution may be as important for your career's health as it is for your personal health.