Interesting article here regarding the impact of exercise on one's own body image. It seems that if an individual engages in exercise, they experience an improved sense of their body image, regardless of their overall fitness level. From the article:
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 their more athletic counterparts, said Heather Hausenblas, a UF exercise psychologist. Her study is published in the September issue of the Journal of Health Psychology.
"You would think that if you become more fit that you would experience greater improvements in terms of body image, but that's not what we found," she said. "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."
The article also addresses the relevance of the research, in that dissatisfaction with one's body image has increased dramatically in this country over the last 20 years. As a result, people spend tons of money on all sorts of products, diets, etc. in an effort to address their poor self-image. According to this research, people will experience an improved sense of self regardless of whether they reach specific fitness markers, in terms of type/duration of exercise, or physiologic measurements. Only frequency of participation appeared significant in the findings, which suggests that simply getting people to participate in some fitness-related activity regularly, regardless of length, will have a psychological benefit - one doesn't have to achieve certain thresholds before the benefits are experienced.
What is nice about this in the context of therapy is that, when exercise is a behavioral intervention (such as when treating depression), the only really important number one needs to worry about in terms of goal-setting is frequency of an activity. The client can slide on some of the other goals (like the length of the workout, walk, jog, etc.); it is simply the act of engaging in the activity for some length of time on multiple occasions during the week that will trigger an improvement in this area. Helping the client by adding the social/interpersonal dimension, such as "I will walk with my wife five days per week," will further increase the likelihood of initial compliance to the goal. As improvement occurs, the other issues (such as the length of the walk) can be examined more specifically.
In addition, this research may be important to provide as education to clients who have extremely poor body image, and/or are reluctant to initiate a workout routine due to concerns regarding "how they'll look in front of everyone." I get that, and there can be ways to work around this issue (go for walks instead of going to the gym, for example). However, there are certain exercise regimens that might be better for certain individuals, or certain exercises the client would otherwise prefer except for this one concern. This research might help a client overcome their self-conciousness and facilitate their participation in an exercise routine they are otherwise more likely to participate in and enjoy.