Strength Training Boosts Body Image

Formerly Idle Men and Women Both Benefit Within Weeks, Study Shows

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 09, 2005

Dec. 9, 2005 -- Want to improve your body image? Strength training might help.

If you're a woman, jot down your starting point. Later, you can look back to see how far you've come. Concrete proof of improvement especially helps women's body image, Canadian researchers report in Body Image.

Men may also enjoy seeing their progress. But that isn't as important to their body image, the Canadian study shows.

Timely Goal

Need some convincing to get started? Check your calendar. It's time to get a jump on New Year's resolutions to get fit (or to squeak under the deadline for this year's goals). Plus, exercise can offset all that fatty holiday fare.

Of course, fitness knows no season. It's got year-round, lifelong benefits.

Still have doubts? Then consider the new Canadian study. The researchers turned 44 inactive adults into accomplished exercisers in a few weeks.

Sure, the participants shaped up. But what the study really shows is how body image improved with exercise.

Kiss the Sedentary Life Bye-Bye

The study was done at Canada's McMaster University. The researchers included Kathleen Ginis, PhD, of the school's kinesiology department.

Participants were 28 men and 16 women. They were 21 years old, on average, and had been sedentary for at least six months. That meant they had been physically active for less than two days per week.

First, they took surveys of their body image. They rated how anxious they felt about other people evaluating their bodies, and how satisfied they were (or weren't) with their bodies. Baseline measures of body fat, muscularity, and strength were measured.

Then, their idle days ended. All participants did strength training five days per week for 12 weeks, under trainers' supervision.

Different Views for Men and Women

All participants improved on strength, body fat, and muscularity and had better body images at the study's end. But women and men saw things a bit differently.

For men, body image improved if they simply felt better for doing strength training. They didn't need to see objective evidence of their gains in strength.

Women's body image also improved if they personally felt good about their progress. But they also got a boost in body image from objective measurements of their increased strength.

The study was small, especially in terms of female participants, the researchers note.

Still, they write that "the results support the notion that strength training provides women with objective positive feedback about their physical capabilities, which, in turn, causes them to feel better about their bodies."

Inspired? Check in with your doctor before starting a new fitness program.