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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Oregon State: Exercise DVDs Could be Psychologically Harmful for Users

Using fitness DVDs to work out at home may seem like a good way to get started on new exercise goals this year, but those DVDs may also include negative imagery and demotivating language, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

Brad Cardinal
[Photo: Dr. Brad Cardinal]

A study of 10 popular commercial exercise DVDs showed that the imagery in the fitness videos may be perpetuating and reinforcing hyper-sexualized and unrealistic body images, said Dr. Brad Cardinal, a kinesiology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.

In addition, researchers found that one in every seven motivational statements on the DVDs was actually a demotivating statement that could reduce the effectiveness of the workout, diminish the user’s hope and potentially cause psychological harm, said Dr. Cardinal, lead author of the study.

“These findings raise concerns about the value of exercise DVDs in helping people develop and commit to a workout program,” said Dr. Cardinal, who is a national expert on the benefits of physical activity. “There are a lot of exaggerated claims through the imagery and language of ‘do this and you’ll look like me.’ ”

The findings are being published in the latest issue of the Sociology of Sport Journal. Co-authors of the study are: OSU graduate students Ms. Kim A. Rogers, Mr. Brian Kuo, Ms. Rosalee L. Locklear, and Ms. Katelyn E. Comfort; and Professor Marita K. Cardinal of Western Oregon University.

Fitness DVDs are a $250 million a year industry, but there is no scientific evidence about their safety and effectiveness or the accuracy of the information contained in them, and the industry is largely unregulated, Dr. Cardinal said.

For the study, researchers reviewed 10 popular, instructor-led fitness DVDs, evaluating both the imagery used in the videos as well as the motivational language used by the instructors. The goal was to better understand the visual and auditory messaging and how it might affect users.

Researchers found that most of the instructors and models were slim, female, and White, and they typically wore revealing attire. That sends a subtle message about what people who are fit should look like, Dr. Cardinal said. This perpetuates objectification of the female body in particular and emphasizes physical appearance as opposed to improved health, he said.

The researchers also found that a quarter of the language used by instructors was motivational, but one of every seven motivational statements was considered negative. Negative statements included phrases such as “say hello to your sexy six-pack,” “you better be sweating,” and “you should be dying right now.”

Those kinds of phrases focus on outcomes, encourage social comparison, and do not take into account individual differences in health or fitness, Dr. Cardinal said. “Tough love” phrases and strategies can also have a harmful effect because they can lead to injuries or other adverse health outcomes, he said.

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