Move your body to improve body image
We all know that moving your body is good for maintaining a physically healthy body. What is less well known is the benefit of activity on mental health. Any form of movement or exertion helps to produce endorphins or ‘happy hormones’. These are believed to help lift mood and general well being.
One of the biggest myths about body image is that it is determined by what your body looks like. This isn’t the case – your body’s appearance does not have to determine how you feel about it. Your mind has the biggest influence on how you relate to your body. Your daily thoughts determine how you perceive it.
Neuroscientists have discovered that the way you move your body can have a profound impact on your thoughts, and therefore your confidence levels, self esteem, mood and body image.
Here are 3 ways that you can move your body to improve the way you think and feel about it:
Move your body for fun & fitness
An analysis of 57 studies looking at the impact of exercise on body image found that exercise markedly improved the way people felt about their bodies, regardless of the actual physical benefits they experienced.
It has also been shown that exercising for reasons such as health, fitness or enjoyment have the biggest impact on improving body image. While exercising with the explicit intention of speeding up weight loss or for altering body shape has been associated with increased body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.
Even short, lower intensity exercise can improve body image, so you don’t have to hit the gym for hours on end!
To improve your body image, find an activity that you enjoy, that’s fun for you and do it with the intention of improving the health of your body and mind. Remember, it can be as simple as a short walk a few times a week or a spot of gardening.
Strike a (power) pose
Exciting new research is demonstrating that the way we hold our bodies influences how we feel. Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy came up with the ‘power pose’, which mimics the behaviour of primates when they want to appear powerful.
In Cuddy’s study, she invited one group of participants to hold a power pose (think Wonder Woman) for 2 minutes, while another group held a ‘weak’ or hunched pose. An analysis of hormone levels showed that the power pose produced higher levels of confidence, while the weak pose produced feelings of fear.
Try power posing to help you feel more body confident – stand with your legs apart, hands on your hips, shoulders back and head and eyes forward. You might also want to repeat a body confident affirmation to yourself as you stand in your power pose such as “l carry my body with confidence and pride.” Remember, it’s important that you do this for at least 2 minutes each time. Adopting this pose on a regular basis helps to rewire the neural networks in your brain, so you automatically adopt a more positive frame of mind.
Dance away body shame
On your journey to body confidence, there will still be times when you go to a place of ‘body shame’, where your automatic response to a comment, a situation or even a media image is a strong feeling of shame and dislike for your body.
At these times, it can be tricky to reframe and rationalise your thinking. Here’s where movement can help! Dancing the shame away will shift resources from the ‘fight or flight’ areas of the brain (that create the feelings of shame) to the empathy and higher order thinking areas of the brain.
Dr David R Hamilton in his book ‘I Heart Me’ advocates dancing away shame. Whenever you feel ashamed about your body and unable to shift the negative thinking, burst into a silly dance – the sillier the better. Keep it up until it brings a smile to your face or makes you laugh (make sure you are alone!). Create your own unique dance and repeat it 10 times each time you experience body shame. By about the fifth time, you’ll find it harder to focus on the feelings of shame.
This practice retrains your brain to stop connecting whatever brought on the feelings of shame to stress and negative emotions and instead connect with more positive insights and emotions.
Try it and see!