Motive- and appearance awareness-based explanations for body (dis)satisfaction following exercise in daily life

Br J Health Psychol. 2018 Nov;23(4):982-999. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12334. Epub 2018 Jul 24.


Objective: Although exercise is typically found to improve body satisfaction, this effect may be reduced or even reversed for trait body-dissatisfied individuals. The reasons for this remain unclear. This study tested the possibility that these effects are due to appearance-related motives and/or increased appearance awareness post-exercise.

Method: Participants included 178 women who completed baseline measures of trait body dissatisfaction, and then completed an experience sampling phase in which they self-reported state body satisfaction and appearance awareness levels, and recent exercise experiences at six time-points daily for 10 days.

Results: Trait body-dissatisfied individuals were more likely to exercise for appearance-related reasons, and experienced less of an increase in state body satisfaction post-exercise. Appearance-motivated exercise also increased appearance awareness. After controlling for appearance motives, the moderating effect of trait body dissatisfaction on the exercise-state body satisfaction relationship reduced to non-significance.

Conclusions: Collectively, the present findings offer some support for both motive- and appearance awareness-based explanations for the reduced benefits of exercise on body satisfaction exhibited in individuals with trait body dissatisfaction. Targeting the reasons for exercise and what one focuses on during exercise may be viable ways to overcome potential negative impacts of exercise on body image for these individuals. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? While the physical and psychological benefits of exercise are well established, recent findings suggest that these benefits for body satisfaction may be reduced (and possibly reversed) for individuals with elevated trait body dissatisfaction. The reasons for this moderating effect remain unclear. What does this study add? Trait body-dissatisfied individuals more often engaged in exercise for appearance-related reasons. Appearance motives for exercise are associated with smaller body satisfaction gains post-exercise. Reduced body satisfaction was also linked to increased appearance awareness post-exercise.

Keywords: appearance awareness; body satisfaction; exercise; exercise motives; experience sampling.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Awareness*
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Self Report
  • Young Adult