Tone it Down or Tune it Out? The Focus of Instructor Cues on Body Image Outcomes during an Exercise Class in Older Adults
In group exercise settings, many factors influence body image, including instructors and the motivational cues they use. The purpose of the present study was to examine the impact of appearance versus functionality-focused cues used by an instructor in an exercise class on state body image, enjoyment and intentions to return in older adults. One hundred and seven participants (26 males, 81 females, Mage = 69 years) took part in two visits. During visit one, participants completed demographic and trait body image questionnaires and had anthropometric measures taken. During visit two, participants were randomly assigned to an appearance or functionality-focused exercise class. In the appearance-focused class, the instructor’s cues emphasized the exercises as a way to alter the body’s appearance, whereas in the functionality- focused class, cues focused on exercise as a way to improve function and health. Participants completed state measures of body image immediately before and after participating in the exercise class. Following the exercise class participants also completed measures of enjoyment and intentions to return. Repeated-measures ANCOVAs were conducted for each state body image measure (body appreciation, functional appreciation, body dissatisfaction, body satisfaction with appearance and functionality, self-objectification, and social physique anxiety) controlling for appropriate demographic and trait body image variables. Participants assigned to the functionality-focused condition reported significantly greater decreases in body dissatisfaction [F (1,101) = 6.35, p = .013] compared to those in the appearance-focused condition, and regardless of condition, participants reported significant decreases in state self- objectification pre-to-post exercise [F (1,105) = 7.85, p = .006]. All other time by condition and time effects were non-significant (ps > .05). ANCOVAs to examine between-group differences on enjoyment and intentions to return showed no significant differences (ps > .05). It is possible that older adults, who place a greater focus on the health and functionality of their bodies, may be protected from negative effects of appearance-related commentary within group exercise settings (in contrast to young-women). Findings also suggest that exercise may be particularly beneficial for improving body dissatisfaction and self-objectification in populations across the lifespan. Future studies should continue to examine psychological outcomes of acute exercise in older adults.