Not loving the way you feel in your favorite jeans? You’re not alone. A 2016 survey calls low confidence and appearance anxiety a “critical issue” and reports that 85% of women have opted out of important life activities such as joining a team or spending time with loved ones when they didn’t feel good about how they looked.
Hitting the gym could help. New research shows a single sweat session could buff up your body image.
A 2017 study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that women who engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for 30 minutes felt stronger and had better body image than those who were sedentary for the same period of time.
“We think that the feelings of strength and empowerment women achieve post exercise stimulate an improved internal dialogue. This in turn should generate positive thoughts and feelings about their bodies which may replace the all too common negative ones,” lead author Kathleen Martin Ginis, PhD, professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan School of Health and Exercise Sciences said in a statement.
Heather Hausenblas, PhD, associate dean for the School of Applied Health Sciences at Jacksonville University in Florida, believes body image could be a powerful motivator for exercise. “Perception is very powerful,” she says. “Exercise results in improvements in mood and self-esteem, which are related to body image.”
But Hausenblas notes that the effects of exercise on body image are transient. In the Psychology of Sport and Exercise study, the body image boost lasted for 20 minutes after a workout. A separate study found that active women who took a 72-hour break from exercise had higher levels of body dissatisfaction than those who maintained their workout routines. In other words, maximizing those feel-good vibes requires engaging in regular exercise — but that doesn’t necessarily mean working out to achieve weight loss or developing a chiseled chest or six-pack abs.
In 2009, Hausenblas co-authored a study in the Journal of Health Psychology that found exercisers did not need to hit workout milestones like losing fat, gaining strength or even boosting cardiovascular fitness to feel good about their bodies. In fact, she believes, “Messages promoting exercise need to de-emphasize weight loss and appearance. The key to long-term exercise is finding deeper motivation than washboard abs. We need to set healthy and realistic exercise goals and stop focusing on what we think is wrong with our bodies [and] focus on becoming fit and healthy for life.”
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT