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Fitness Pros Influence Body Satisfaction

Comments by group exercise instructors affect women.

Women in a group exercise class experienced greater body satisfaction and better moods when the instructor made motivational comments related to strength and health instead of weight or appearance.

“The women in this study did all the same exercises, in the same room, with the same music playing,” said lead study author Renee Engeln, PhD, professor of instruction in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. “Yet just modifying the script the fitness instructor used had a meaningful impact on the way people felt about themselves afterward. If we want people to stick with exercise, we need to remove shame from the equation.”

Instructor scripts focused on function or appearance. After class, women reported feeling more positive and satisfied with their bodies after hearing, “This exercise is crucial to developing strength in the legs. . . . These are the muscles that truly help you run, jump, sprint like a super hero. . . . Think of all the amazing things your body is capable of,” in contrast to, “This exercise blasts fat in the legs—no more thunder thighs for us! Get rid of that cellulite. . . . Earn your dream body.”

The study is open access in the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology (2018; doi:10.1123/jcsp.2017-0047).

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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