How Running Improves Body Image

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As part of the western culture appearance, sexuality, body size, body shape and a wide variety of stereotypes have a large importance placed upon them in the greater society. Thankfully, we live in a time where our society has become aware of the effects body image has on a person’s overall well-being and has begun taking the time to pay attention to the repercussions of negative body image and promoting positive body image actions and words.

Luckily, one of the best things that can help accomplish and maintain a positive body image quickly, effectively and naturally is logging a few miles. While you already know you physically and mentally feel better, more energetic and less stressed, every time you lace up your shoes, it’s nice to know you’re helping ensure your body image remains healthy as well.

What is Body Image?

Body image is not just about the physicality of your body; it’s about the entirety of how you are perceived, including your physical appearance.  The view one has of how they are seen by everyone else may or may not be an accurate reflection of real life.

The potential for inaccuracy can occur due to things like your upbringing, attitudes of your caretakers, feelings, temperaments, personal experiences and other factors.  And while you could have an overall good body image, body image can change since emotions, interactions and situations.

As fragile as your body image sounds, there are ways to move beyond a negative body image and help you maintain a positive one. Positive body image is not simply “dealing with” things you dislike about your body, but wholly accepting yourself as you are right now and not trying to change yourself.  Positive body image is not about seeking happiness constantly but respecting and valuing yourself.

So How Does Running Help with Positive Body Image?

Studies have shown that people who engage in physical activity are more likely to have a positive body image than those who don’t, even if the people choose to eat nutritiously or view their lifestyle a healthy one.  Dieting can make some individuals feel weak and deprived, whereas running tends to yield positive results like feeling strong and energetic. People may start running to lose weight but as any runner knows, it quickly becomes about how far, how fast and how much fun you can. You are asking your mind and your body to work together to accomplish a goal, creating a teamwork mentality.

Some research has shown that food choices, even when healthful, often are viewed as a hurdle people must constantly continue overcome. However, the same person who views food as a hurdle, when committed to routine physical activity like running, views moving their body only as a positive and does not attach negatives feelings towards the exercise.  Once the commitment to physical activity is there, studies show there is a positive correlation with people subsequently choosing healthy food. Simply put, science proves running has a greater impact creating positive body image than what you choose to put in your mouth.

Part of the boost of confidence associated with running is due to the perception that “extra effort” was put in on the part of the runner.   Anyone can choose grilled chicken over fried chicken, but not everyone goes out, or can go out, and log 3 miles.  Regular running leads to higher self-esteem, contentment with appearance and the ability to receive positive feedback.

A specific attribute of running is the focusing on goals related to running and not the sociocultural goal of attaining the “perfect” body. The focus of your runs is not to compare yourself to your peers but to better something within yourself.  The whole concept of choosing a goal race, training and accomplishing a goal is something that will build and bolster confidence each time the process repeated. Even falling short of a target goal, like running a certain time or not walking during the race, is a positive step. One learns to overcome, not succumb to disappointments.

Then there is the Runner’s High, the psychological impact of the exercise of running specifically.  A long held belief was that behind the runner’s high was a release of endorphins based on the physical portion of the body, but according to Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise recent research says otherwise. “In some studies, when the effects of endorphins have been blocked chemically, people have still experienced this high, so the whole endorphin argument has been called into question,” Bryant states.

Instead, new research has suggest that it might be the neurotransmitters in the brain that play a part in the Runner’s High.  Bryant states, “Norepinephrine secretion, dopamine, and serotonin have all been shown to help to reduce depression. These neurotransmitters also tend to be released and produced in higher concentrations during exercise, so people think that it may be some of these other biochemical substances, aside from the endorphins, that might be responsible for this effect.”

Other Ways to Help Boost Body Image

First and foremost know that even the most mentally healthy have a bad or “off” days. Do things that you know will make you feel good like eating well and going for your planned run.  Surround yourself with positive people in your life. Science backs the old adage “it takes a village..” engaging your personal community  promotes an overall positive body image and healthful environment.

It might also be a good time to take a quick evaluation of what’s going on in your life. Are there any stressors in your life that could be affecting your body image? Try and deal with the stress in that portion of life it is occurring in. And if possible, take the day off of social media or seek out an avenue that motivates you.

Running will help you on the days your confidence is waning. On the days you do not want to go, those are the days you need to go the most.

Sources

  1. Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, Body Image, Self-Esteem, and Mental Health, Web,
  2. Heather Hatfield, Runner's High: Is It for Real?, Web,
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