The purpose of this research was to explore the effectiveness of exercise in reducing body image concerns of female college students. Women enrolled in an aerobic exercise course or in a social psychology course at a medium sized university reported their social physique anxiety and body esteem at the beginning and end of the semester. For women in the aerobic exercise classes, social physique anxiety decreased and body esteem increased over the course of the semester. Social physique anxiety and body esteem did not change significantly for those in the (nonexercising) social psychology classes. The researchers concluded that participation in aerobic exercise programs may help to improve the body image of female college students. Based upon these results further investigation of the mechanisms by which exercise influences body image is warranted.
This research was conducted as part of the first author’s master’s thesis under the supervision of the second author. These data were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in August 1993. The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of Al Petitpas, Annie Goranson, and two anonymous reviewers on an earlier draft.