Do workout DVDs motivate us - or make us feel worse about ourselves? [Photo: Bigstock]

Exercise DVDs could be ‘psychologically harmful’

8 January, 2016

Natural Health News — 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.

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

In addition, the study in the journal of Sociology of Sport Journal, 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.

What you need to know

» Many people buy fitness DVDs to help them get fit at home. Today home fitness DVDs are a $250 (£170) million a year industry.

» But an investigation into the images and language on many fitness DVDs has revealed unrealistic body images and demotivating language.

» Rather than helping us to get fit, the researchers say, such videos could demotivate and cause psychological harm.

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

Fitness is big business

Fitness DVDs are a $250 (£170) 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.

On reviewing the content of the videos the 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, Cardinal said. This perpetuates objectification of the female body in particular and emphasises physical appearance as opposed to improved health, he adds.

Cardinal and his colleagues 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.”

Tough love = self-loathing?

Those kinds of phrases focus on outcomes, encourage social comparison, and don’t take into account individual differences in health or fitness, according to the study. “Tough love” phrases and strategies can also have a harmful effect because they can lead to injuries or other adverse health outcomes, Cardinal adds.

Such messages could be particularly harmful to users who are turning to exercise DVDs to start a new fitness routine or who are uncomfortable in a gym or fitness class setting say the researchers. In addition, the exercise videos were marketed to novice exercisers while the movement skills tended to be designed for intermediate or advanced levels of fitness, and the instructors’ verbal messages sometimes taunted observers to keep up.

“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,” says Cardinal. “If the experience is not positive, the likelihood the person is going to continue with an exercise program diminishes.”

The findings indicate that there is a need to further investigate the impact of commercial fitness DVDs. Along with the language and imagery used in the videos, researchers should consider studying the effectiveness and safety of the types of exercises and techniques used since, according to Cardinal, many of the instructors appear to have little or no credentials in fitness instruction.