Can one workout make you feel better about your body?

Exercise2According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one half of North American women experience some degree of dissatisfaction with their body image, with the problem increasing over the last three decades.

The new study, carried out by a team from UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, aimed to test the idea that exercise could have a positive effect on body image.

The team recruited 60 university-aged women who exercised regularly, but who all reported concerns with body image.

The women were randomized into two groups — either performing 30 min of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise or engaging in quiet reading.

The team then compared the body image and physical perceptions of women who completed 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise to those who sat and read.

They found that the women who exercised had significant improvements in their body image, both in their perception of body fat and body strength, compared to those who didn’t exercise.

The team also established that this effect was not due to simply an improvement in mood, but because the women actually perceived themselves to be physically stronger and thinner, with the positive effect also lasting at least 20 minutes after the exercise had finished.

“Women, in general, have a tendency to feel negatively about their bodies,” commented senior author Kathleen Martin Ginis, “This is a concern because poor body image can have harmful implications for a woman’s psychological and physical health including increased risk for low self-esteem, depression and for eating disorders. This study indicates exercise can have an immediate positive effect.”

Martin Ginis now believes the findings could help to develop effective practical recommendations for using exercise to improve body image.

“We all have those days when we don’t feel great about our bodies,” says Martin Ginis. “This study and our previous research shows one way to feel better, is to get going and exercise.”

“We think that the feelings of strength and empowerment women achieve post exercise, stimulate an improved internal dialogue. This in turn should generate positive thoughts and feelings about their bodies which may replace the all too common negative ones.”

The results can be found online published in the July issue of Psychology of Sport and Exercise.