It moves in all kinds of ways. It reaches. It runs. It remains still. It flexes. It straightens out again — all with little thought. We’re talking about your body. When you move your body with focused attention, you quickly realize that your body is about more than appearances. It functions! Those less-than-perfect legs allow you to walk on a beach. Those flabby arms enable you to hug your loved ones.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to boost body image. It builds confidence and strength, and releases neurotransmitters that can lift your mood and reduce anxiety.
“We know that exercise improves body image almost to the same degree as short-term psychotherapy,” says Leslie Heinberg, PhD, director of behavioral services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “Even if the activity doesn’t change your weight or your shape, it will improve your body image.”
Some forms of activity may make you feel especially good about your body:
Most people associate yoga with stretching, but the practice goes far beyond elongating your muscles. Yoga practitioners strive to create balance in the body through performing a series of poses or postures, each of which has specific physical benefits. The practice emphasizes mental and spiritual well-being as well as physical health.
“Yoga teaches you to tune in to your body,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of "Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food." “That kind of attention to your body helps you know it well.” You learn to accept your personal limitations and work within them. A bonus: When you leave class, you feel calm, centered and beautiful. In one study, hatha yoga participants were less likely to internalize the thinness ideal than those who did aerobic exercise. The yoga students also reported more body satisfaction than those in the aerobic exercise group.
MORE: Health Benefits of Yoga
Pilates is a physical fitness system designed to strengthen the inner core muscles to create length and flexibility in the spine. The exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine. They improve your body image, not necessarily because you look better (though you will!), but because your core muscles (abs, glutes, inner and outer thighs) grow stronger. After all, if you’re standing tall and maintaining good posture, you’ll feel more powerful and confident.
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