In a recent survey of 16,000 Glamour magazine readers, 40% of respondents expressed discontent with their bodies. However, the good news is that simply engaging in regular exercise—regardless of body changes—has been linked to improvement in self-assessment.

The study, published in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of Health Psychology (2009; 14 [6], 780–93), was based on body image–related research studies from 57 publications. The study
authors combed through the publications to determine whether there was a connection between exercise and improved self-image. As expected, those who exercised were found to be less critical of their bodies. What was surprising, though, was that actual physical improvements were not necessary for those same subjects to feel better about their appearances. “You would think that if you become more fit you’d experience greater improvements in body image, but that’s not what we found,” stated study author Heather Hausenblas, exercise physiologist at the University of Florida.
“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.” This information is significant
as it offers yet another positive outcome
of regular exercise. “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,” added Hausenblas.
“This is an important study because it shows that doing virtually any type of exercise, on a regular basis, can help people feel better about their bodies,” stated Kathleen Martin Ginis, kinesiology professor at McMaster University in Ontario. “With such a large segment of the population dissatisfied with their physiques, it’s encouraging to know that even short, frequent bouts of lower-intensity exercise can improve body image.”