Our mental representation of how our body looks is our body image or body esteem. How you view your body and how your mind views your body could be entirely different. Body image affects one’s behaviour and self esteem tremendously. A negative body image can be a source of endless misery.
One’s weight seems to strongly influence one’s body image. Almost all overweight people have a compromised body image. They loathe the parts of their body that are considered repositories of fat. The main target of this loathing is the abdomen and followed closely by other areas such as the thighs and the hips. Weight seems to influence a woman’s body image more than a man.
Negative body image has grown to almost epidemic proportions in the past 20 years, with as many as 60 percent of adults in national studies saying they don’t like the way their bodies look.
Exercising Improves Body Image
An interesting study published in The Journal of Health Psychology found that exercise more than fitness, improved one’s body image. The researchers said that people who don’t achieve workout milestones such as losing fat, gaining strength or boosting cardiovascular fitness feel just as good about their bodies as those who do. Frequency of exercise rather than duration or intensity, mattered for boosting one’s body image.
This does not mean that improving fitness has no effect on body image. Fitness and hard work, does improve body image significantly as was concluded in a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. The studies show that the meager act of exercising increases one’s body image.
Weight Training to Improve Body Image
In a study published in American Journal of Health Promotion, 60 participants were asked to do 2 sessions of weight training per week for 12 weeks. as compared to another group of 92 who did not. Women who did weight training had significantly higher scores in General Well Being and Body Cathexis. Body Cathexis is synonymous to body esteem or body satisfaction. The women who weight trained also had the greatest loss of weight and body fat. Another interesting aspect of the results was the fact that there were slightly larger benefits from exercise in terms of improving body image for women than men.
In another study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 27 female and 12 male college students were put on a circuit weight training program. Not surprisingly, the weight training program increased upper and lower body strength. What was interesting was that the weight trainers had a significantly improved evaluation of their own appearance. They also had a greater body satisfaction and enhanced physical self-efficacy. Physical self-efficacy are beliefs that one has about one’s ability to successfully execute certain physical actions. As an example, a parent firmly believes that he could bend down to pick his 5 year old son without hurting his back. They also had a reduced social physique anxiety. The anxiety associated with perceived social evaluation of one’s body or physical appearance is termed social physique anxiety.
Another study in the American Journal of Health Promotion, compared the effects of walking and weight training on the body image of middle aged women. As expected, weight trainers showed greater muscular strength than walkers. Walkers on the other hand displayed greater cardio respiratory endurance than weight trainers. What was of interest was the final conclusion of the study. The researchers concluded that a 3 day a week resistance training regime seemed to have improved body image more than that of walking 3 times a week.
Improving Body Image
Research shows that exercise has a significant effect on one’s body image. Fitness does play a significant role in improving one’s body image. One does not have to achieve a 6-pack to improve one’s body image. The meagre act of exercising, sends one’s body image on an upward spiral. While cardio trainig does boost one’s body image, weight training has the biggest effect.
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