Body dissatisfaction is a major problem with dire implications for U.S. adolescents and young adults. Recent research shows that more than half of young women dislike their bodies and more men are increasingly feeling the same way. A serious problem on its own, body dissatisfaction is also linked to significant health issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, continuous weight-gain, and eating disorders.
Now, new research from the School of Public Health suggests that yoga may be an effective strategy for improving body satisfaction and has the potential to help people with even the highest levels of physical disapproval.
The study, led by Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, was published in the journal Body Image. The research used survey data from the school’s long-running Project EAT, which examines various aspects of eating, activity, and health among young people. For this study, the researchers looked at Project EAT responses to questions examining body image and yoga participation answered five years apart.
Neumark-Sztainer found that 16 percent of 1,664 people surveyed reported practicing at least 30 minutes of yoga per week over the previous year. She also found that those practicing yoga experienced increased body satisfaction during that period — especially if they had poor body image prior to starting yoga.
“Our study provides preliminary evidence that yoga may be helpful for improving body image — particularly among individuals who have high levels of body image dissatisfaction to begin with,” says Neumark-Sztainer. “I thought it was really interesting that the effect was greatest in those with the greatest need. It could’ve been that people who have high levels of body satisfaction felt worse after doing yoga due to comparing themselves to others, but we didn’t see that.”
Neumark-Sztainer said the initial results for yoga are promising, but additional research is needed to truly prove and understand its long-term effects on body satisfaction.
Neumark-Sztainer is continuing to look at the links between yoga and body satisfaction through more analysis of Project EAT participants who practice yoga. She also recently published a study showing that yoga may help prevent weight gain over time.