Shame and guilt about body fat fuels men’s spontaneous gym workouts

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Men's hidden fears about body fat are fueling gym attendance motivated by feelings of guilt and shame rather than a desire to build muscle, new research has shown.

Psychology researchers from the UK and Australia discovered that while male attitudes towards muscle or body mass index (BMI) did not predict how frequently they would attend the gym, their perceptions of body fat did.

The researchers found that men worried about body fat were more likely than others to undertake spontaneous, unplanned work-outs – and warned that these 'sporadic' exercise patterns tend to be difficult to sustain over time. The findings raise questions over the effect portrayals of the ‘ideal body’ online and in the media have on healthy exercise behaviors in this 21st-century world of ‘selfies’.

This has important real-life implications for health and exercise professionals and their intervention programmes, the researchers suggest. The findings could help health and fitness professionals improve gym attendance in the long-term by focusing on pro-active goal setting and personal autonomy, rather than body image.

The study was carried out by Dr David Keatley from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln, UK, and Kim Caudwell from Curtin University, Australia. Dr David Keatley, a specialist in the study of complex patterns of behaviour and motivation, said: ‘Anyone can be affected by what they see online, the social cues images can give, and the popular conceptions of an “ideal body image”. With the recent growth of selfies and the return of muscle-bound Hollywood hero icons like Vin Diesel and Hugh Jackman, there’s a real risk that males may be more influenced to attend the gym more regularly and workout to a point where it becomes dangerous or detracts from their wellbeing.’

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