It's been two weeks since the year 2016 has kicked off. This means that you've probably had a few days to begin your New Year's resolutions. If you haven't yet, today is never a bad day to start.
If you're a fitness enthusiast but haven't been able to shed the holiday pounds, enlisting the help of exercise DVDs seems like a good idea to stay fit and healthy to make good with your resolutions.
However, a team of fitness experts in Oregon says otherwise.
In a new study featured in the Sociology of Sport Journal, researchers found that commercially-available exercise DVDs actually have a negative impact on your well-being, particularly your mental health.
Exercise DVDs Are Unrealistic
Led by Kinesiology Professor Brad Cardinal, the team of experts examined 10 exercise DVDs and found that these products create an unrealistic body image for viewers, making them want to exercise less.
"We don't think the videos are very psychologically safe. There are also questions about some of the exercises, which could lead to injuries and pose a real danger to the user," said Cardinal, who is an expert in the benefits of physical activity.
Most of the fitness instructors were slim, white, and female, and wore revealing clothes, researchers said.
Why is that unhealthy? Cardinal said these signs are subtle messages about what "fit" people are supposed to look like. It even perpetuates objectification of the female body in particular, and gives more focus on physical appearance than to improved health, he said.
"There are a lot of exaggerated claims through the imagery and language of 'do this and you'll look like me'," said Cardinal. If viewers don't look like the "fit" people on-screen, they may become disheartened, he said.
Exercise DVDs Are Discouraging
Not only that. The team also discovered that about one in seven motivational statements remarked by the fitness instructor was discouraging and demotivating, and could even cause stress.
Among the negative "motivational" statements they listed were:
- "You better be sweating."
- "Say hello to your sexy six-pack."
- "You should be dying right now."
These statements focus on outcomes, encourage social comparison, and do not take into account the differences in health or fitness among individuals, Cardinal said.
It may seem like "tough love", but Cardinal said these strategies and phrases can have a harmful effect because they can lead to adverse health outcomes such as injuries or anxiety.
Such statements are especially toxic to users who use exercise DVDs to begin a new fitness routine, or those who are uncomfortable in a fitness class or gym setting.
Cardinal said exercise DVDs were targeted to novice exercisers, while the movement skills were designed for advanced or intermediate fitness levels. The statements of fitness instructors sometimes taunted viewers to keep up, he said.
Personal trainer and PhilanthroFIT founder Doug Sklar said the Oregon team's findings did not surprise him at all. He said negative statements often seem to motivate experienced exercisers, but it can negatively affect beginners.
"Exercise does require challenge to promote changes within the body," said Sklar. "But it is important to encourage and support those new to exercise so they find it to be a positive experience that they are more likely to continue with."
Purchasing Exercise DVDs
The industry of fitness and exercise DVDs accumulates more than $250 million a year, but Cardinal said there is no scientific data proving their effectiveness or the accuracy of the information within them. He also said the industry is largely unregulated.
"You're inviting into your home these images and messages that could make you feel bad about yourself, and ultimately hinder your efforts to improve your health," said Cardinal.
Cardinal urged the public to be mindful of the potential effects of exercise DVDs when selecting and buying these products. Along with the imagery and language used in the exercise videos, he said further studies should be done regarding the efficacy of exercise DVDs. In addition, most of the fitness instructors seem to have little to no credentials in fitness instruction, he said.
In the end, Cardinal said we have to remember that people have different body styles and shapes, and that our bodies may respond differently to the exercises being shown.
"Don't expect to get the same results as what you see on the screen or compare yourself to others," added Cardinal.