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Exercise improves body image regardless of fitness level

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

The simple act of exercising can make you feel good about yourself and improve body image. New research from the University of Florida shows that the simple act of exercising can improve body image, regardless of your fitness level.

Heather Hausenblas, a UF exercise psychologist studied the benefit of exercise on body image, finding that people who exercise have a positive self-image comparable to that of athletes.

Hausenblas says, "You would think that if you become more fit that you would experience greater improvements in terms of body image, but that's not what we found," she said. "It may be that the requirements to receive the psychological benefits of exercise, including those relating to body image, differ substantially from the physical benefits.”

Sixty percent of adults say they do not like the way their bodies look according to results of national studies. The UF researchers systematically examined studies on the subject of body image and exercise from 57 publications up until June 2008.

"Body dissatisfaction is a huge problem in our society and is related to all sorts of negative behavior including yo-yo dieting, smoking, taking steroids and undergoing cosmetic surgery," says Heather Hausenblas."It affects men and women and all ages, starting with kids who are as young as five years old saying they don't like how their bodies look."

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Scientists understand the physical benefits of exercise, but few researchers have focused on the psychological effect of exercise and how it can improve body image, even when exercise fails to lead to weight loss and body changes.

Individuals who met the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines of engaging in exercise at least 30 minutes a day five days a week was compared to those who did not. The researchers found no difference in body image.

However, older people, those who exercised more often, reported enhanced body image from exercising. Hausenblas says, “People who say they have high body dissatisfaction tend to exercise the least, so we wanted to take it a step further and see whether exercise causes people’s body image to improve.”

The findings also showed that women seem to get only a slightly different body image boost from exercise, compared to men. The authors write, “We believed the gap would be much bigger, but what could be coming into play is the rise of body image issues among men. We’re seeing more media portrayals of the ideal physique for men rather than the overriding emphasis on women we did in the past.”

The study found that that exercise alone can improve body image, even if body size and shape fails to change. The duration, intensity, length or type of exercise did not seem to matter – those who exercised more than the minimum recommended thirty minutes, five days a week, and older adults were most likely to report improved body image from exercise.

Reference: University of Florida News