The simple act of exercising and not fitness itself can convince you that you look better, says a new study.

People who don’t achieve workout milestones such as losing fat, gaining strength or boosting cardiovascular fitness feel just as good about their bodies as their more athletic counterparts, said Heather Hausenblas, University of Florida (U-F) exercise psychologist.

“You would think that if you become more fit that you would experience greater improvements in terms of body image, but that’s not what we found,” she said.

The study by Hausenblas and graduate student Anna Campbell is the first to systematically analyse the wide-ranging effects of exercise on body image by examining all intervention studies on the subject until June 2008.

From the 57 publications, the researchers found conclusively that exercise buffed up the way people see their bodies regardless of the actual benefits, but the results varied.

Negative body image has grown to almost epidemic proportions in the past 20 years, with as many as 60 percent of adults in national studies saying they don’t like the way their bodies look, Hausenblas said.

Americans spend billions of dollars a year for products designed to change their body size and shape, including diet pills and various cosmetic procedures, she said.

The study found no difference in body image improvement between people who met the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines by exercising at least 30 minutes a day five days a week and those who did not, Hausenblas said, according to an U-F release.

The guidelines are considered the minimum amount of exercise needed to receive the health related benefits of physical activity, she said.

The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Health Psychology.

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