The first time Julia Shearson rode her bike after converting to Islam seven years ago, her headscarf became stuck in the wheel.
She lost her balance, and by the time she got going again she was met with stares as she whizzed along, arms and legs draped in loose clothing, her scarf billowing in the breeze.
"You have to overcome the looks," said Ms. Shearson, 43, the executive director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islam Relations. "It's already hard enough to exercise, and if you look different ... it's even harder."
As a Muslim woman in the United States, Ms. Shearson has found it difficult to stay fit while adhering to her religious principles about modesty. Islam does not restrict women from exercising — in fact all Muslims are urged to take care of their bodies through healthy eating and exercise — but women face a special set of challenges in a culture of co-ed gyms and skimpy workout wear.