RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS PA—Not all benefits of exercise are physical, according to a recent study of body image and exercise. Fully 60 percent of adults say they don’t like the way their bodies look—something Heather Hausenblas, PhD, director of the exercise psychology laboratory at the University of Florida has described as a “huge problem” and one to which she offers, in her study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, a small but highly effective solution for developing a positive body image: Exercise. As much or as little as you can. You'll feel better about your body even before you see any physical changes.
THE DETAILS: Researchers at the University of Florida department of applied physiology and kinesiology reviewed 57 studies examining the effects of exercise on negative and positive body image. What they found was that exercise did improve body image—more so for women than for men, although, the study authors note, that may be due to the fact that more women than men are studied in regard to body image. More noteworthy, perhaps, was the finding that the developing a more positive body image wasn’t tied to a particular fitness level or a reduction in weight—body image improved regardless of any physical, postexercise change. And body image improved regardless of how long or how frequently the study participants exercised. “There is evidence from several studies that fitness change is not necessary for enhanced body image,” the study authors write. “Perceptions of…body image may arise [simply] because there is a feeling that the body is improving through exercise.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Moving your body is one key to loving it. “Your body is literally meant to move,” says Selene Yeager, personal trainer and coauthor of Move a Little, Lose a Lot with James Levine, MD, “It’s what we’re built for." And when you move as you’re meant to, it feels good—metabolically as well as emotionally, she says. “In fact, there’s a large body of research out there about how sitting for long periods is physically terrible for you,” Yeager continues. “When you’re sitting, blood isn’t circulating as quickly to your brain. When you’re moving, you’re also moving oxygen-rich blood to your brain, which is going to make you feel better about everything—including yourself.”
Here’s how to move more and feel better about yourself as a result: