KELOWNA, British Columbia — Maintaining a positive body image is a challenge to women worldwide. The statistics are alarming, with a 2017 survey finding 9 in 10 women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting, while a global study conducted by Dove in 2016 showing 8 in 10 women or girls would skip an important event or activity if they weren’t pleased with their appearance.
Self-help is vital in keeping a healthy mindset, and new research shows that a woman’s negative perception can undergo significant change — in as little as 30 minutes. All it takes is a little bit of exercise.
Researchers at University of British Columbia’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences found that just a half-hour exercise can have a profound effect on a woman’s body image, making her feel both stronger and thinner.
“Women, in general, have a tendency to feel negative about their bodies,” explains senior study author Kathleen Martin Ginis in a university release. “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.”
For their study, researchers recruited 60 college-aged women who had “pre-existing body image concerns,” but exercised regularly. At random, one group performed moderate-to-a-high intensity workout while the other group sat quietly and read. Researchers assessed the participants’ self-perception, self-efficacy, and body image before and after the experiment.
The team found that the exercise group had a markedly improved perception of their body image, in comparison to those who only read.
It should be noted, however, that the result wasn’t long-lasting. The effect lasted for at least 20 minutes for participants, but it wasn’t linked to a change in mood, rather the perception that the participants finished their exercise feeling stronger and thinner. That said, the results show that regular exercise can stimulate a more consistent positive mindset that may strengthen a woman’s ability to talk herself down during moments of self-disapproval.
“We think that the feelings of strength and empowerment woman achieve post exercise, stimulate an improved internal dialogue,” says Ginis. “This, in turn, should generate positive thoughts and feelings about their bodies which may replace the all too common negative ones.”
Ginis hopes the results lead to more exercise-based interventions and therapies for women who seek help for body image struggles.
“We all have those days when we don’t feel great about our bodies,” she says. “This study and our previous research show one way to feel better, is to get going and exercise.”