Mirrors can make women feel worse about working out

August 01, 2003

Mirrored walls are a regular feature of gym décor, but new research suggests that the reflections may make some women feel worse after their workouts.

A study published in Health Psychology found that sedentary women who exercised in front of a mirror for 20 minutes felt less energized, less relaxed and less positive and upbeat than women who performed their workout without a mirror.

Women who exercised without the mirror also reported that they were less physically exhausted at the end of their workout, while those with a mirror reported no change in their exhaustion level.

The findings could have implications for encouraging physical activity among sedentary women, especially since the standard guidelines for exercise promotion suggest that workout rooms have mirrors on at least two of four walls.

"As such, the recommended practice of placing mirrors in exercise centers may need to be reconsidered, especially in centers that are trying to attract exercise initiates," say Kathleen A. Martin Ginis, Ph.D., of McMaster University and colleagues.

"Certainly if a woman leaves the gym feeling even worse than when she arrived, she will not be particularly motivated to continue exercising in the future," Martin Ginis adds.

Even women who felt good about their bodies experienced these negative effects in front of their reflections, say the researchers.

"So this isn't just a phenomenon unique to women with poor body image," Martin Ginis says.

Martin Ginis and colleagues studied 58 university women who normally participated in less than one moderate or strenuous 15-minute bout of exercise each week. The women were interviewed about their body image and their feelings before and after working out.

Each woman then rode a stationary bike at a moderate pace for 20 minutes while wearing loose-fitting shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes.

The researchers say that more work needs to be done in "real-world exercise environments" and on women outside of the university community to see if the negative effects of mirrors are widespread.
-end-
BY BECKY HAM, STAFF WRITER
HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or http://www.hbns.org.
Interviews: Contact Kathleen Martin Ginis at 905-525-9140, x 23574 or martink@univmail.cis.mcmaster.ca.
Health Psychology : Contact Arthur Stone, Ph.D., at 631-632-8833.

Center for Advancing Health

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