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Exercise Adherence Tips

Published August 14, 2014


As many as 80% of people who begin an exercise program do not stick with it. While initially, many people are motivated to begin an exercise program. It even can be fun. But what does it take to stay motivated? How can you increase the likelihood that you will continue exercising?

One of the best motivators is doing something because you enjoy it. Also, seeing progress and reaching your goals are very motivating. The following suggestions will help you have fun and reach your exercise goals:

Keep it fun

  • Work out with friends. Not only will you have company, but you can give each other social support and encouragement. Also, it’s more difficult to skip a workout when some one else is counting on you being there.
  • Choose an activity you like. If you know you do not like jogging, chances are you won’t stick with it.
  • Learn a new activity. Take up a martial art, snowshoeing, or conquer the climbing wall. The new challenge will keep you coming back to meet the next challenge.
  • Begin easy and slowly increase your effort. Trying too much too soon can result in sore muscles or injury. Pain is not fun – and it is not necessary. Be realistic with what you expect to accomplish and aim for small but regular improvements.
  • Cross-train. Rather than do the same thing everyday, do different activities. For example, take an aerobics class once a week and a spinning class another day. This type of training will work different parts of your body and will keep you from becoming bored with exercise.

Monitoring Progress

  • Set realistic, measurable goals. Setting goals in terms of distance, time, amount lifted allows you to clearly see changes. You also will know exactly what you are aiming to do (e.g., run 3 miles or swim for 30 minutes). Begin with a realistic short-term goal (e.g., run ¼ mile and then walk ¼ mile). You will easily see your progress toward your goal.
  • Keep an exercise journal. From the first time you exercise, keep track of how much weight you lifted, how far or for how long you walked, etc. You could make a weekly or monthly graph of your improvements. Seeing improved results will motivate you to work toward new goals.

Fit Exercise into Your Life

  • Convenience. Choose an activity that you can fit into your current schedule. For example, select a health club close to home or work. Find a time of day where you are most likely to avoid conflicts with other activities (e.g., early in the morning, lunch, or evening). The more convenient exercise, the more likely you’ll stick with it. Choosing a fitness facility with childcare may be helpful for some exercisers.
  • Establish a routine. Once you pick a place and time to exercise, keep doing it. Make it a part of your regular schedule. For example, block out the time in your planner for exercise. As you stick to your routine, exercise will become a habit.
  • Make exercise a priority. Schedule exercise before scheduling other meetings or activities. Make a commitment to your exercise program.
  • Combine family-time with exercise. Go for a walk, hike, or take a bike ride together. Make activity something everyone in the family can enjoy together. Be creative (e.g., hike to a picnic area).

Published in: Health & Fitness

Body Image and Physical Activity

Published August 14, 2014

By Christy Greenleaf
University of North Texas

What is Body Image?

  • Body image refers to the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions you have about your body appearance and shape.

How Does Body Image Influence Physical Activity?

  • How you feel about your body can influence your physical activity participation.
    • Individuals who feel better about their bodies (i.e., have positive body image) are more likely to engage in physical activity than those who have negative body image.
    • This is one reason it is important to focus on feeling good about being active (regardless of your shape or size) and feel proud that you are doing something good for yourself.
  • Body image can also impact the type of physical activity you feel comfortable participating in and your level of enjoyment.
    • Individuals who are self-conscious and anxious about their appearance tend to prefer to exercise alone and have lower levels of enjoyment.
    • Physical activity involvement is improved when people experience social support and find enjoyment in the activity.
    • Thus, seeking out supportive and welcoming physical activity environments in which you feel comfortable is important.

How Can You Improve Your Body Image?

  • Engage in positive body talk.
    • People frequently engage in negative body talk or “fat talk” – saying things like “I’m so fat,” “I really need to lose some weight,” and “I’m not wearing shorts until I tone up.”
    • Replace those negative statements with positive ones like “I am strong” and “I care for and nurture my body.”
    • Write out positive body statements and strategically place them in your home – for example on your bathroom mirror or on your phone. That way, the notes will remind you to engage in positive body talk.
  • Focus on what your body can do.
    • Be proactive… learn a new physical activity, go to the park with your family, train for a 5k, or get a pedometer and work your way up to walking 10,000 steps a day (the current recommendation for adults).
    • Appreciate what you are able to do with your body and enjoy being active.
  • Accept the idea that healthy and happy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
    • The dominant belief in our society is that the ‘ideal’ body (lean and toned) is the only type of body that can be happy and healthy.
    • Being thin will not automatically make your happy, solve all of your problems, or make life more exciting and interesting. Happiness comes from within.
    • Being thin does not necessarily equate to being healthy. Engaging in consistent physical activity helps improve health.

Published in: Health & Fitness, Mental Health

When Building Muscle Turns into Muscle Dysmorphia

Published August 14, 2014

By Jennifer J. Waldron
University Of Northern Iowa

In today’s world, action figures, men’s magazines, television shows, and movies often portray the ideal body for men. The ideal body for men is “V-shaped” with muscular arms, a broad chest, and a narrow waist. This has resulted in many men, similar to women, being worried about and unhappy with their bodies. In order to obtain the “V-shaped” body, many men engage in weight training. Lifting weight leads to many health benefits and may bring men closer to the “V-shaped” body. Unfortunately, some men who lift weights also suffer from severe body dissatisfaction. These men see themselves as smaller and weaker than they actually are, are preoccupied with their muscles, and become consumed with weight training. These men may suffer from a body image disorder called muscle dysmorphia.

Muscle Dysmorphia
Muscle dysmorphia typically occurs in boys and men, who have a well-defined muscular build. People with this disorder believe and spend a great deal of time thinking that their muscular build is undersized and underdeveloped and desire bigger muscles.

Behaviors of People with Muscle Dysmorphia
People who have muscle dysmorphia display a number of similar behaviors. Here is a list of typical behaviors of someone who is experiencing muscle dysmorphia.

  • Extreme exercise, especially resistance and weight training
  • Many hours lifting weights
  • Constant mirror-checking
  • Avoiding social situations where they may appear muscularly small Compare their muscular build to others
  • Extreme attention to diet
  • Lifting while being injured
  • Anxiety when missing a workout
  • Neglecting family, friends, and job in order to exercise
  • Use of anabolic steroids to enhance muscle mass

Why does Muscle Dysmorphia occur?
Muscle dysmorphia is caused by an interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors. Based on their genetics, some men are more liable to experiencing muscle dysmorphia. One psychological factor that has been studied is self-esteem. Men with low self-esteem are more likely to have muscle dysmorphia than those men with high self-esteem. Finally, society (e.g., media, sports) is placing greater pressures on men to have an ideal body. The interaction of these factors leads some men, similar to women’s desire to be thin, to become obsessed with having the ideal body.

What can Health and Exercise Practitioners do to help?

  • Have pamphlets about muscle dysmorphia at the health and exercise facility
  • Do not connect the worth of people to their body size and musculature
  • Do not allow others to tease or make fun of someone’s body or muscle size
  • Continue to learn about muscle dysmorphia
  • Many people with muscle dysmorphia do not realize they have a problem and do not seek treatment; practitioners should be aware of clients who display the signs of muscle dysmorphia and encourage them to find help
  • Be supportive of someone with this body image disorder

Published in: Health & Fitness, Mental Health

Stress Management Tips for Good Health

Published August 14, 2014

By Aaron Moffett
California State University, San Bernardino

Following simple stress management tips can improve your health. Stress has been related to health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, ulcers, migraines, and sleeping problems or disorders. Everyone experiences stress but it is important to know what causes your stress, how you respond when these things happen, and how you can manage your stress during those difficult times.

Sources of stress

  • Determine sources of good stress. There is both good (eustress) and bad (distress) stress. For instance, you may be an individual who enjoys finishing the work report or leading your team down the field during the two-minute drill. Thus, you should determine what is good stress for you and what increases your performance at work, on the field, in the gym, or in the classroom.
  • Determine sources of bad stress. Distress can cause poor performance. Some people do not do well when they are stressed about a test. Other sources of stress could be family, work, or the big game. These sources of stress then lead to different ways we respond to stress.
  • Realize how you respond to stress. People express stress physiologically, behaviorally, and cognitively. For instance, before a job interview your heart may be racing (physiological), you may pace back and forth (behavioral), or you may say negative statements to yourself such as “This stinks! I can’t do this!” (cognitive). Once you know how you respond to stress, you can choose the best ways to cope with stress.

Coping with stress

There are many ways to cope with stress but it is best to match your coping strategy with your stress response.

Physiological coping strategies: One way to reduce stress if you respond to stress physiologically is to use breathing techniques with muscle relaxation. When using breathing techniques, you want to inhale and exhale deeply. While inhaling, you can tighten the muscles that are typically tense when you are stressed. When exhaling, relax those same muscles. Be sure to recognize the difference between the tense muscle and the relaxed muscles. Usually, it is best to do a consistent count for each inhale and exhale such as a count of two or three. This will help slow down your heart rate and breathing rate. It will also help relax your muscles and your mind as you are increasing the amount of oxygen to both.

Behavioral coping strategies: There are both positive and negative coping strategies that people use. Some people may drink or smoke because of stress but these are obviously negative coping strategies. Some positive coping strategies are writing goals to tackle the problem, writing “to do” lists, exercising, or doing the things that increase eustress (good stress). Writing goals and lists help to organize thoughts and actions so that you know how to fix the problem or possibly remove the stressor if possible. Exercise increases endorphins in our body or gives us the “runner’s high” while also releasing the tension in our body and feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration.

Cognitive coping strategies: Along with using some of the previously stated coping strategies, you may want to use positive self-talk or give yourself reaffirming statements. It is very easy for people to tell themselves, “I stink!” and believe it when problems happen. Instead, recognize the times that you use the negative statements that decrease your confidence and use a cue word such as “relax” or “stop” to remind yourself to stop saying these statements. Then use positive, reaffirming statements of aspects at which you are good to replace those negative thoughts. If you are struggling with your defense during a game, you may want to say that you are good at the offense while also reminding yourself about the good aspects of your defensive game.

Everyone experiences stress throughout his or her life. What you do with those stressors is what is important. Thus, you should recognize your sources of stress, realize how you respond to stress, and then use a coping strategy that matches the way that you respond to problems.

Published in: Health & Fitness, Mental Health

Disordered Eating and the Controlling Aspects of Aesthetic Sports

Published August 14, 2014

By Eva V. Monsma
University of South Carolina

Although there are several benefits to sport participation, achievement and performance pressures can be highly stressful especially in aesthetic activities such as gymnastics, diving, cheerleading and dance. Success depends on judges’ subjective evaluation of skill competency and presentation where comparisons across athletes or teams are made regularly. Similarly, in sports where females wear revealing uniforms (i.e., track and field, volleyball and tennis), perceived physique imperfections are frequently of concern. Naturally, this can infiltrate the thinking of the athletes, their parents and coaches. Often physical appearance, including physical size and physique, are subjects of conversation that can lead to negative self-perceptions of athletes.

Negative self-perceptions should be of concern because they are detrimental to the health and wellness of beholders. Being concerned with physical appearance can (1) detract attention from technically difficult elements that typically involve aerial rotation in aesthetic sports potentially resulting in injury; (2) restrict the artistic impression necessary for interpreting music or program themes and (3) lead to anxiety, dissatisfaction and motives which can be the indicators of disordered eating.

Given the pressures to perform and achieve success in sport, compounded by subjective evaluation or presenting bodies in revealing uniforms, many female athletes may resort to disordered eating to compensate for these pressures. Dietary restriction, binge eating and/or excessive exercise are behaviors involved in disordered eating. This article will help inform athletes, coaches and parents about factors leading to eating disorders and their consequences. Three young female college student-athletes affected by eating disorders were interviewed. They were given aliases of Jocelyn, Sophie and Jane. Their personal accounts along with some research evidence should be informative to everyone in the aesthetic sport community.

What are eating disorders?
An eating disorder is an emotional and physical condition associated with an obsession with food, body weight or body shape. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), eating disorders are more common among females than males with as many as 10 million girls and women, and 1 million boys and men afflicted. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia primarily affect people in their teens and twenties, making the majority of adolescent athletes vulnerable. Because of its secretive nature, not many athletes are known by their athlete community to have eating disorders and the incidence is higher than you would think.

Anorexia and bulimia are well known eating disorders. People with anorexia starve themselves to dangerously thin levels, weighing 15% (or more) below what is appropriate for their age and height. People with anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though they are underweight and they use weight as the only source of self-worth. Other symptoms of anorexia are denying the medical seriousness of low weight, and for women who have reached puberty, missing at least three menstrual cycles in a row.

Warning signs of eating disorders in females include:

  • loss of menstrual period;
  • dieting obsessively when not overweight;
  • claiming to feel "fat" when overweight is not a reality;
  • preoccupation with food, calories, nutrition, and cooking;
  • denial of hunger;
  • excessive exercising;
  • being overly active;
  • frequent weighing;
  • strange food-related behaviors;
  • episodes of binge-eating;
  • rapid weight loss;
  • depression;
  • slowness of thought/memory difficulties; and
  • hair loss.

People with bulimia nervosa engage in binge eating, feeling a lack of control over eating behaviors during eating binges. Purging occurs after these bouts of over-eating to eliminate calories from the body through self-induced vomiting, starving, vigorous exercise, laxatives, or other methods to prevent weight gain. A minimum average of two binge-eating episodes a week for at least 3 months and persistent concern with body shape and weight help characterize bulimia.

Eating disorders often begin with weight restrictive behaviors but can have several health consequences, some which are irreversible. For example, anorexia and missing menstrual cycles are also associated with osteoporosis (bone loss). Other common medical complications include: erosion of teeth and gums, constipation, acid reflux, slowness of thought, abnormal liver functioning, anemia, abnormal blood pressure and brain shrinkage. People can die from eating disorders.

Eating disorder risk factors
What causes weight restriction behaviors that can lead to eating disorders? When asked about their personal experiences with eating disorders and their sport experiences three female athletes who have suffered from eating disorders had a lot to say.

Jocelyn, a 24-year old college senior was 17 when her eating disorders started. She experienced both bulimia and anorexia. “It began as a kind of crash-diet and I thought it would all stop once I reached my “goal weight.” That happened within two months, but I couldn’t stop, and it went on for five more years. An eating disorder slowly takes over a person’s life, until they are so preoccupied with food, exercise and weight that these things take precedence over other things such as school, work, family, or even life goals, which should be most important. In many ways, having an eating disorder is like an addiction—the ED becomes the sufferer’s main source of good feelings and they just crave more, all the time.”

Researchers have categorized eating disorder risk factors into four categories that everyone in aesthetic sport communities should know about. These are:

  1. features of the sport task such as revealing uniforms or being physically evaluated;
  2. the sport environment, which can include comments from teammates, coaches, parents or judges, as well as the audience;
  3. biological characteristics such as metabolism and physical size; and
  4. psychological characteristics of the individual which can include self-esteem, body image and anxiety about being evaluated by others (a.k.a. social physique anxiety).

Factors from each of these categories can interact, further fueling disordered eating behaviors.

The idea behind knowing the factors that can lead to eating disorders is to help separate those that are within people’s control and those that are not. With this information, various people in the athlete community can strive towards controlling their actions. More specifically, athletes can realize that some issues are not in their control and require positive ways of coping.

Sport task-related pressures
The most important aspect of sports such as dance, synchronized skating, and swimming is to move as one. Sticking out in any way can be a problem. Sophie reports, “When you go out there, you are not (it\'s) not only for you, it’s for your team. If you make a mistake you are letting down all of your teammates.” “Your mistakes affect everyone” Jane adds. For athletes like Sophie, who competes in international events, representing her country is an additional stressor. Jocelyn points out that some sports are “expensive and associated with wealth” and this can magnify the need to do well.

Although many athletes get used to competitive attire, wearing skimpy outfits is stressful for some. “Especially in some of our more revealing outfits…I feel so incredibly fat in them and embarrassed,” says Sophie. Based on Sophie’s disclosure, when there is a choice, uniforms that make athletes feel comfortable should be chosen. Involving athletes in the decision making process is also a healthy way to boost motivation and team cohesion.

With the evolution of technical elements in many sports that now include jumping and lifting, being thin can be even more important than just for aesthetics. Being thin is thought to make the rotation and the height of jumping easier. But if you think about it, one of the consequences of having an eating disorder is to reduce the amount of energy your body stores and needs to perform. It’s not worth it. “I got to a point where I had to quit because physically I wasn’t strong enough to do it anymore, and I became quite depressed and gained a lot of weight afterward. I began to miss practicing and my teammates very much but even more than that, I missed feeling healthy, happy and active,” says Naiomi who missed a year and a half of her season because of anorexia.

Environmental pressures
Environmental pressures generally involve people who interact with athletes including teammates, peers, coaches, parents, parents of other athletes, judges and the audience. In many aesthetic sports scores for artistry are tied to appearance. According to Jocelyn, “Girls compare themselves to one another, but they also want to look better than each other”. Judging is a pressure in and of it’s self and is involved in pressures from others. Oftentimes comments made to athletes are geared towards what is thought to be ideal from a judges’ perspective. Jocelyn states that a coach “might cut you if you are too big”, they want judges to see that their athletes are fit and in shape.”

Spectators are also implicated in making comments about athletes’ appearance. “Spectators are quick to point out the “fat girls” on teams, even when they aren’t fat. Anyone who sticks out is fair game for ridicule,” says Jocelyn.

Much of the appearance and weigh-related pressures aesthetic sport athletes experience are from coaches. Jane explains that her coach often emphasized abdominal workouts saying, “we need to look good in our dresses,” instead of “we need to get stronger.” Jocelyn’s coach would hint for her to “lose 5-10 pounds.” She further stated, “The all-time worst was when a coach who knew I had an ED told me, “You look beautiful now BECAUSE you lost weight.”

Consistent with research on female athletes, those interviewed also reported coach practices such as weigh-ins, cutting athletes based on weight, and diet restriction warnings around the holidays as stressful.

Coaching is difficult because they are being paid a lot of money to develop a winning team and they make team selection decisions accordingly. During the season, it can be hard to focus on needs of individuals who comprise the team. It is important to point out that there are many coaches out there who realize the consequence of such negative statements and practices. Sophie indicates that she has never had a coach make negative comments about needing to lose weight. “They always talk about taking care of our bodies, and making sure we are eating right.” Although Jane has found some pressure from her coaches, she confirms that her coaches “would never want us to have a disorder or to be too skinny.”

Pressures related to biological characteristics
Aesthetic sports are considered an early-entry sport where young girls often specialize in the sport as early as eight years of age. This means that in many sports, girls grow up in front of the sport community where many are quick to point out changing bodies. Growing, becoming more muscular and fat are inevitable and often the reason athletes ‘lose’ their technical elements, especially those involving aerial rotation.

A changing body is stressful, especially in the face of constant comparisons. “It’s really hard not to compare yourself to your teammates. There is always someone who seems to be able to eat whatever they want and they are still so skinny and I always wondered, “Why can’t I be like that?” I envied them so much because I had to work so hard to keep my weight down,” reveals 22 year old Sophie. While these growing pains are common among non-athletes, the sport environment magnifies adolescent insecurities.

According to 20-year old Jane, “I grew faster then everyone else I went to school with. I thought I was huge, but I was normal-just bigger than them because I had hit puberty earlier in life. All I knew was that when people want to lose weight, they eat less and exercise more. So I started doing that. I started losing weight, so I though to myself “If I eat even less, I will lose even more.” Losing weight became addicting. Pretty soon, I was skipping breakfast and dinner whenever I could, and only eating an apple and yogurt for lunch. I ran 3-5 miles everyday, on top of at least two hours of practice. I also would get on a stationary bike for about an hour. I didn’t understand that what I was doing wasn’t healthy. I just wanted to be thin.”

What many people in sport communities may not realize is that individuals are all on their own pathway to their genetically pre-determined size. Although extreme dietary restrictions and exercise can influence this pathway, growth is inevitable and severe caloric restriction leads to severe health consequences noted earlier. It is also important to keep in mind that a lot of energy can be expended while participating in a sport. Nutritional requirements adequate for developing bodies are influenced by body type and metabolism.

Physical characteristics such as height, physique and leg length are tied to the timing of puberty. For example, the growth plates (bones) of early maturers close sooner than late maturers. Late maturers spend a longer time growing and thus end up being taller, leaner, with longer legs compared to their body. Growth spurts are more noticeable among early maturers who are also characteristically more muscular than late maturers. Because muscle weights more than fat, early maturers can expect to weigh more without worrying about being fat. It is important to note that weight and the Body Mass Index (BMI: weight (kg)/height (m2)), a popular indicator of weight-related health, are not indicators of body composition, or fatness.

Psychological characteristics
In addition to changing bodies, psychological characteristics such as self-perceptions and self-esteem are developing during adolescence and can be influenced by the way people react to changing bodies. It is common for athletes to experience social physique anxiety (SPA) – anxiety about presenting oneself in front of others. It is important to avoid heightening SPA because researchers have found that people with SPA have a tendency to develop eating disorders and have low self-esteem. Perceptions such as satisfaction with health, strength, endurance, physical activity as well as appearance-related issues are important building blocks of self-esteem, which can improve confidence and buffer the effects of SPA.

Confidence and mental toughness are some of the most important psychological characteristics in any sport. They result from participation and are essential for performing your best. Like positive self-perceptions, they can also protect people during stressful life events. Eating disorders often stem from losing control over other areas of life especially during stressful situations such as applying for college or when parents are going through a divorce. Mental toughness is particularly important for coping with criticism, bad advice and overcoming disordered eating. “I had to want it. Not my parents wanting it for me or my doctors or my therapists. Me. Because ultimately I’m the only one who can overcome it…no one can do it for me and it took me a very, very long time to come to that realization” reveals Sophie.

Each athlete interviewed was asked to provide three pieces of advice for athletes, parents, coaches, and sport officials. Here is a summary of their recommendations.

Advice for athletes:

  • Remember you are a unique individual first before you are an athlete.
  • Let your happiness and enjoyment of your sport take precedence over criticisms you may face. Your health is so much more important to your sport than your weight!
  • If a teammate has an eating disorder, treat her with respect and dignity, and be sensitive to her illness. Above all, be there for her as a friend and teammate.
  • Avoid obsessing about the numbers on a scale. They are only numbers.
  • If you know a teammate or friend is having problems with food, it is not something they can “just stop” and they are not doing it for attention. All you can do is be supportive, you can’t make them quit…they have to do it themselves.

Advice for parents:

  • Never criticize your children or other athletes for their weight.
  • Build self-esteem by making positive comments concerning physical abilities and appearance often, they are the building blocks of self-esteem.
  • Make sure your child knows the importance of good nutrition and appropriate exercise as an athlete.
  • Monitor the way your athlete’s coach treats issues of weight, diet and self-esteem. Protect your child from becoming the target of a coach who discriminates based on weight.
  • Consider how you evaluate your own appearance, health-related behaviors and communications concerning diet. Children can learn that food is an enemy at a very young age.
  • Avoid over-emphasizing beauty based on outward appearance. Make sure your child knows that they are loved at whatever size or shape they may be.
  • Avoid comments like “Do you think you should be eating that?”
  • If your child has signs of an eating disorder do not become the “food police” in a power struggle because it could backfire.

Advice for coaches:

  • Be aware that you are role model to your athletes. Your influence goes a long way in their lives.
  • Be sensitive in making comments about your athlete and/or team expectations and how you address body image.
  • Avoid discriminating against athletes because of their weight. Refrain from weigh-ins, and asking athletes to lose weight or diet.
  • Provide educational resources concerning nutrition, growth and development, exercise and disordered eating.
  • Be positive and empathetic.

Sport officials and the media

  • Seek and share information about nutrition, growth and development, exercise and eating disorders. This information should be mandatory training at judging, coaching and administration seminars.
  • Consider implementing policies on unhealthy coaching practices and parent behaviors at sport related activities.
  • Celebrate athletes with diverse body types, backgrounds and ethnicities at all times.
  • Don’t always profile and reward the thinnest, most beautiful athlete in your magazines and other venues. The “ideal” of the white, thin, beautiful athletes needs to be challenged.

If you think you may have an eating disorder, deciding that you want to help yourself is the first step towards becoming healthy. Know that there are many resources out there and people who can help you. Both Jocelyn and Sophie found working with dieticians helpful in re-learning healthy eating habits. You just have to take that first step even if it’s scary and admit that you need help. You can learn more by going to the following websites:

This article was adapted from Monsma, E. (2006). Disordered eating and the controlling aspect of synchronized skating. Synchronized Skating Magazine, Issue 2.

Published in: Parents & Youth Sport, Mental Health