<DIV class=storyheadline>Gym mirrors discourage many women, study finds</DIV>
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<DIV class=storyheadline>Leave more tired, down</DIV>
Women who exercise in front of mirrors, such as those common in fitness clubs, feel worse after their workouts than those who train without such a view of their efforts, Canadian researchers say.
A study of women who infrequently exercise found that working out in front of a mirror for 20 minutes left them feeling less energized, less relaxed and less positive than women doing the same exercise without the mirror.
The impact of the reflection was so great, in fact, that the women who watched themselves left the gym feeling worse than when they arrived, the researchers found.
"I think they are coming in and thinking, 'Man, do I ever look like crap. I'm sweating like crazy. I look out of shape. My thighs are fat.' All that kind of stuff," said Kathleen Martin Ginis, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton and lead author of the study to be published today in Health Psychology.
That takes a toll on women, she said.
"This was found to be the case regardless of how you feel about your body.
"It is kind of frightening that even if you feel really good about your body, you are not immune to the negative effects of the mirrors. You go in and exercise in front of the mirror and you come out feeling worse than when you went in," Dr. Martin said.
The research challenges the notion that mirrors, whole walls of which cover many health and fitness clubs, help people into a regular workout routine.
The American College of Sports Medicine even recommends in its published guidelines that fitness clubs have mirrors on at least two of their four walls.
Dr. Martin said that recommendation should be reconsidered.
"If you want to entice sedentary women to start exercising, getting them away from a mirrored environment is a good idea because no one is going to want to go out and regularly start exercising if they feel worse than when they started," she said.
Her study, called "To See or Not To See," flows from a body of research into the so-called mirror effect on women.
"If you have women sit down in front of a mirror for a while, their mood is going to fall regardless of what they're doing. Have them sit and gaze into a mirror and they are going to feel crappy after a period of time," Dr. Martin said.
Dr. Martin and colleagues studied 58 university women who normally participated in less than one moderate or strenuous 15-minute bout of exercise each week.
Each woman rode a stationary bicycle at a moderate pace for 20 minutes while wearing loose-fitting shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes. The women were interviewed about their body image and their feelings before and after the workout.
The mirror effect is not as pronounced in men, and they were not included in the study.
Dr. Martin studies the psycho-social aspects of exercise and health-related behaviours. She researches how concerns about what others think of us influence both healthy and health-damaging behaviours.</DIV>