Thursday, December 31, 2009
Almost all of us have days when we look in the mirror & wish we were a little thinner, taller, or more athletic. Men & women alike are increasingly plagued with negative perceptions of themselves. According to some national research, as many as 60% of American adults are dissatisfied with their bodies. If you’re one of them, take heart: You don’t have to change your appearance to change how you feel about it. A new study in the Journal of Health Psychology shows that exercising, regardless of whether you actually lose any weight, can redefine the way you see yourself.
Researchers at the University of Florida found that the simple act of working out improved body image even if other goals – such as fat loss, increased muscle strength, or better cardiovascular fitness – weren’t met. In fact, men & women who did not exercise enough to meet the minimum for health benefits (usually considered to be 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) experienced just as much psychological improvement as other, more athletic participants.
“The duration of the exercise didn’t seem to matter,” says exercise psychologist & study co-author Heather Hausenblas. “People felt better about their looks even if they didn’t lose fat or gain muscle. One of the reasons may be that exercise lowers levels of anxiety & depression, & that manifests in body image.”
The study is one of the first & largest to examine the effects of physical activity on body confidence. Researchers hope it will help people who have found themselves trapped in a cycle of self-destructive behaviors due to negative body-image issues. Such behaviors often include drinking, binge eating, or smoking, which can have long-term effects on both physical & emotional well-being. Taking even a short walk can quite literally be the first step in breaking this pattern.
There’s one caveat though: The setting in which you choose to exercise matters. “If you are self-conscious about your looks, a gym where everyone is wearing tight clothes & there are mirrors all around can cause your anxiety to go sky-high,” Hausenblas cautions. “If that’s the case, look for an environment that won’t cause distress. Consider working out at home or walking with a friend.”