Exercise and Self Esteem

Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC 

Any purchase you make supports my work on this website. Thank you!

According to Helen Hausenblas of the University of Florida, as many as 60% of American adults may be unhappy with their physical appearance and body shape. Exercise and fitness programs seem to offer a way to improve how we look and feel and so improve our self esteem. How effective is exercise in improving self esteem?

Exercise can help build self esteem and fight depression. In a study by McAudley, Mihalko and Bane (1997), the effects of exercise over 20 weeks on middle-aged adults included improved self-esteem, confidence and improved satisfaction with one’s physical appearance. Exercise stimulates Serotonin production which also promotes positive feelings.

Does Exercise Improve Self Esteem?

This study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that exercise can have a positive effect on self esteem. In particular, the study looked at young people between the ages of 3 to 20 years and also considered past research.

Another study by Elavsky in 2010 shows that continued exercise can boost self esteem and body image in middle-aged women. Elavsky also believes that, based on research, exercise benefits women in menopause and improves mental health.

It is also interesting to look at the effects of exercise on the self esteem of older people. That is exactly what this study did, by assessing whether a DVD-based exercise program can have a positive effect on elderly people’s self esteem.

“Physical activity is a low cost, lifestyle behavior that has consistently been associated with physical and mental health improvements in an older adult population.”

Awick, Ehlers, Fanning, Phillips, Wójcicki, Mackenzie, Motl, & McAuley. (2017).

This is very positive because it means it is never too late to start exercising, to build toward your goal of improved self-image.

The connection between exercise and self esteem has been shown to be valid in many other studies. It is safe to say that exercising more can have a very real effect on our self esteem, body image and confidence.

The Benefits of Exercise

There are many benefits of exercise which can contribute to general well-being, improved mental health and a boost in self esteem.

Sudden, seasonal, bursts of energy towards getting in shape come and go with the ever-changing weather. What is important is that maintaining some form of physical exercising, beyond your every day cycle, helps reduce anxiety while building emotional strength. How? Physical strain weakens pent-up, nervous, energy; that would otherwise fester and brew harshly within you. One theory is that endorphins, a chemical the pituitary gland produced during vigorous exercise improves your mood.

It should never bother you to take the relatively minor steps necessary to improve your health; especially when doing so can only upgrade your self-esteem along the way. Even people in their eighties and nineties who have not been active for many years can strengthen bones, muscle, heart and lung capacity when they maintain a regular exercise program. You don’t have to exercise every day to achieve goals for good health. Initially, aim for every other day.

Many believe that working out relieves stress, and I have experienced this too. It is a great way to get rid of excess energy that sometimes gets bottled up inside us.

Exercising may also help you at work and increase your energy levels in addition to helping you to feel and look better. In fact, there doesn’t seem any downside to exercise.

Full-Service Gyms Offer Much More Than Just Exercise

Full-service gyms are those that feature both aerobic and weight training exercise options as well as additional amenities. Your heart can get a great cardiovascular workout there, and you should also have the option of strengthening your muscles through weight training at such gyms. Fitness centers with steam rooms and gyms with tanning beds are examples of full-service with something extra. This extra service is worth paying for as it can help you to feel much more confident about yourself.

Some of these types of gyms require a monthly membership fee, while others allow customers to drop in and pay per workout session if they don’t want to commit to a monthly membership. Some gyms even offer childcare options at their facilities. Exercise facilities like this can help you improve body image and general self-esteem.

A Word of Caution and Health Concerns

For most, exercise is beneficial but if you have health concerns please get the advice of a doctor before starting an exercise program. If you experience dizziness, chest pain, nausea or shortness of breath stop exercising immediately and call a doctor.

Physical Therapy Helps You Recover From Injury Or Pain Which Also Benefits Your Mind

Physical therapy centres are available for those who need to regain their mobility. Loss of mobility can come from injuries due to automobile accidents, having a stroke or heart attack or going through knee replacement surgery. These injuries can affect your confidence and cause low self-esteem issues, so they are worth having treated.

At centres for physical therapy, you’ll work with people who are college-educated therapists. They’ll know what exercise movements you need to do in order to gain your mobility back. You may need to have a doctor’s recommendation if you want your health insurance to cover the treatments, so be sure to check with your physician or insurance company to see if you need a referral before going to therapy.

Yoga and Pilates Centers

Some healthcare facilities offer yoga and Pilates classes. Such centers usually do have monthly membership options, but there is a good chance they accept students on a class-by-class basis as well. Combined with cardio exercise, yoga is a great way to jumpstart an effort to become more physically active this year.

Sometimes, body loathing can be a problem. Getting fitter and exercising can be helpful in stopping this.

What are the Best Ways to Exercise to Build Self Esteem?

  • Exercise with a friend. If you can make your exercising social by working out with a positive person you are close to this will increase the power to boost your self esteem. It is also great for your motivation as you can encourage each other and set goals together.
  • Get a personal trainer who will motivate and keep you focused on your exercise goals. The support and help you get from a trainer can really help you with your self confidence and ensure that you are getting the most from your exercise routine.
  • As little as two sessions per week of exercise can make us happier, more confident and less stressed (Tom Rath and Jim Harter, Gallup News), which can promote improved self esteem.
  • Make exercise more interesting and less boring by joining classes or taking part in sports or walking with friends. The social element is so good for your positivity and self esteem.
  • Yoga is another form of gentler exercise which can help reduce stress and calm your mind, all of which help to put you in a more positive frame of mind and feel better about yourself.
  • Exercise can be a great way to recover from illness and restore lost self esteem and confidence. For example, this study, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, found that breast cancer patients can improve self esteem through exercise. The reason was mainly due to improved feelings of being physically able.

It’s probably not a good idea to do really intense workout programs if you’re looking to reduce stress and improve your level of self esteem. Most of the research mentioned suggests that moderate exercise is best for this.

How Quickly Can You Build Self esteem with exercise?

The answer to this is not simple. Exercise will boost your self esteem almost immediately in the short term, but only regular and consistent exercise over a few weeks and even longer will make a more lasting difference in your self esteem and confidence.

5 minutes into your workout you may start to feel a boost in your mood, but according to this study in the International Journal of Sports Psychology, it may take as long as six months for this to translate into a more permanent shift in mood and self esteem level.

5 Reasons Getting Fit with a Friend Boosts Motivation

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to get fit? Many people do. They’ll start out with a workout either at home or at a gym and do well for a week or two. Then it just seems to get swallowed up by life. Is there anything that can help with that? Maybe. Let’s take a look.

Exercising with Friends Benefits Your Health

A lot of people come to find that they’re more likely to stick with an exercise routine if they’re participating in it with a friend, family member, or neighbour. The benefits of working out with someone else encompass your overall health, weight loss, energy level, and mood. If your friend doesn’t belong to the same gym, some  — like this gym in Santee, California  — offer unlimited guest privileges with certain membership levels.

Accountability Helps You Achieve Your Exercise Goals

Working out with someone else will hold you accountable. This is especially true if you happen to be on a team. Your teammates can help to hold you accountable for the goals you set as both a team member and an individual. For example, if your goal is to get down to a size where you can pass up the cute trendy plus size clothing for something smaller, and you start slipping, your teammates can back you up and get you back on your game.

Exercise Boosts Your Mood and Reduces Stress

Exercise is great for elevating your mood while reducing your stress. These effects are only enhanced when you happen to be exercising with a friend. In fact, there has even been a study that found that there’s a connection between a healthier brain and exercise. Also, people tend to actually enjoy working out as a team better than solo workouts. This serves to increase your motivation while reducing the chances of you skipping out on a session.

Having a partner to exercise with gives you the opportunity to catch up with whatever is going on in each other’s lives during your workout. Exercising as a group may also allow the brain to release even more endorphins. This then allows you to be able to get through the more difficult exercises due to a reduction in pain and an enhancement of good feelings.

Exercising With A Friend Pushes You and Improves Your Energy Levels

Do you remember a time when you thought that you wouldn’t be able to get through the workout, but then you were able to after all? It may have been something new that you were trying, an additional 10 minutes on the stair master, or even just another rep with the weights. Having friends to exercise with will assist you when it comes to going the extra mile – both figuratively and literally.

This goes hand in hand with the intensity benefit. Exercising with a friend or two will decrease your feelings of fatigue while it also increases your energy level. When you compare exercising with a friend and exercising alone, doing it with a companion serves to increase each session’s intensity while it also keeps you going for a longer period of time. When you work out with someone else, there may even be times when it almost turns into some sort of competition, and this will allow you to push yourself even harder than when compared to working out by yourself.

Exercise Aids Weight Loss and Helps You Feel Better About Yourself

When you manage to burn off more calories than you take in, the result is weight loss. All physical activity burns calories – especially exercise. When you combine exercise with a meal plan that’s low in calories, it will be likely that you’ll lose weight. This will happen regardless of whether or not you happen to be working out with one of your friends. That said, a group exercise session may prove to be more beneficial than working out alone. People who have a companion to work out with tend to lose about 10 additional pounds when compared to those who don’t. Also, as discussed above, working out with a companion may also work to increase your level of motivation. Friends tend to offer encouragement when it’s needed while also assisting you with remaining focused on your goals for losing weight.  

This means that the next time one of your friends asks if you want to exercise with them, you should respond with a resounding “Yes!” You’ll see an improvement in your health as well as strengthening that friendship.

Sources

  • Alfermann, D., & Stoll, O. (2000). Effects of physical exercise on self-concept and well-being. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 31(1), 47–65.
  • Awick, E., Ehlers, D., Fanning, J., Phillips, S., Wójcicki, T., Mackenzie, M., Motl, R., & McAuley, E. (2017). Effects of a Home-Based DVD-Delivered Physical Activity Program on Self-Esteem in Older Adults: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 79(1), 71–80. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000358
  • Baldwin, M., & Courneya, K. S. (1997). Exercise and Self-Esteem in Breast Cancer Survivors: An Application of the Exercise and Self-Esteem Model, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology19(4), 347-358. Retrieved Sep 23, 2020, from https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jsep/19/4/article-p347.xml
  • Ekeland E, Heian F, Hagen KB. (2005). Can exercise improve self esteem in children and young people? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 39:792-798.
  • Elavsky, S. (2010). Longitudinal Examination of the Exercise and Self-Esteem Model in Middle-Aged Women. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 32(6), 862–880. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.32.6.862
  • McAuley, E., Mihalko, S. L., & Bane, S. M. (1997). Exercise and self-esteem in middle-aged adults: Multidimensional relationships and physical fitness and self-efficacy influences. Journal of behavioral medicine20(1), 67-83.
  • Rath, T. and Harter, J. (2010). Exercise, Sleep and Physical Well-Being. Gallup News. https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/127211/exercise-sleep-physical-wellbeing.aspx

Website Author and Your Guide

Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.