It doesn't take much to make a man feel satisfied with his body: a look in the mirror and a sense of well-being seem sufficient. For women, however, changes in body image need to be supported by hard, physical evidence.
The findings surprised the study's author, Kathleen Martin Ginis, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University.
"We thought - obviously incorrectly - that women's body image would improve more than men's as they progressed through the strength training study," Martin Ginis said.
"We were surprised by the responsiveness of men's body image to strength training. Men's body image improved as much as women's. Yet interestingly, men didn't care about numbers--how much weight they actually lost or how much muscle they actually gained had no bearing on their body image; if they simply felt more muscular and stronger, or if their pants were looser, that was good enough to improve their body image. But when it came to the women, feeling thinner and stronger was only part of the story. The women who had the greatest improvements in body image were those who saw actual increases in the amount of weight they could lift at the gym."
The study followed men and women, between the ages of 18 and 29, during a 12-week full-body progressive resistance-training program. Significant body image improvements were found for both sexes but it seems that men's and women's body image improved for different reasons. For the men, body image improvements were related to perceived changes in their bodies. For the women, body image improvements were related to perceived and real changes in their bodies.
An illuminating side bar to the study is that all the participants led sedentary lifestyles up until the beginning of the study. In all cases, visible changes in strength were apparent in a short period of time, proving that with a moderate amount of exercise (in this case, about an hour a day), significant changes to physical health and body shape can emerge in a relatively brief period of time.
McMaster University is a world-renowned, research-intensive university, based in Hamilton. It is one of the four Canadian universities among the top 100 universities in the world.