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One hundred and twenty seven male and female elementary school, high school, and university students who were classified as high or low exercisers completed questionnaires that measured global self-esteem, body satisfaction, and body build.
For all participants combined, high exercisers reported greater self-esteem than low exercisers, showing that the positive relationship between exercise activity and self-esteem is robust across sex and age.
Self-esteem has been defined as the “level of global regard one has for the self” (Harter, 1993), or how well a person “prizes, values, approves, or likes” him or herself (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1991).
Indeed, body satisfaction might mediate any relationship between exercise activity and self-esteem.
They were drawn from a larger sample of 227 and were classified as high or low exercisers as described below.
However, this practice has been criticized because the dependent variables are not independent (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996) and because Type I error is not properly controlled in the post hoc univariate tests (Kellow, 2000; Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996). People who already have higher self-esteem for other reasons may be more motivated to exercise compared to those who have lower self-esteem.
It might be useful to do so because, in a study of female adolescents involving sport participation, exercise participation, body dissatisfaction, and self-esteem, Tiggemann (2001) found that only sport participation predicted body dissatisfaction.
High exercising male participants had a bigger body build than low exercising male participants, and they also reported greater satisfaction with specific aspects of their bodies (body-cathexis).
That is, exercise might have physical effects that lead to greater body satisfaction which in turn leads to greater self-esteem. Future research should ensure that there is a sound measure of exercise activity and should increase the sample sizes in the different groups of high and low exercisers.
Sports participation and self esteem: Variations as a function of gender and gender role orientation.
Self-esteem and sex roles among male and female high school students: Their relationship to physical activity.


Body image dissatisfaction: Gender differences in eating attitudes, self-esteem, and reasons for exercise.
The impact of adolescent girls’ life concerns and leisure activities on body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and self-esteem. The effect of exercise on body satisfaction and self-esteem as a function of gender and age. However, in contrast to the findings for self-esteem, these results have only been obtained with male and female adolescents and adults; children have not been investigated. For example, the American College of Sports Medicine states that psychological benefits accrue with 15 to 60-min periods of exercise three times per week at 60 to 90% of maximum heart rate (Iannos & Tiggemann, 1997).
For male participants, scores were lower for high than for low exercisers, whereas for female participants there was no significant difference. When the difference in self-esteem scores was converted to the standardized effect size d, it was 0.51, which is a medium effect (Cohen, 1977).
However, in the university students, they were almost identical and in the elementary school students, scores were higher for low than for high exercisers. It might also examine whether exercise activity has different relationships to different dimensions of body-cathexis and to different dimensions of self-esteem.
Self esteem as a function of sex of participant and body satisfaction in elementary school, high school, and university students. Misuse of multivariate analysis of variance in behavioral research: The fallacy of the “protected” F test. For body image, the ANOVA was run with self-esteem and cathexis as covariates, but the results were the same as above – no significant effects of exercise.
Thus, despite the concerns over the measurement of exercise activity, our findings consolidate the generality of the relationship between exercise activity and self-esteem, particularly because the groups were compared under standardized test conditions.


Physical activity, self esteem, and self-efficacy relationships in older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Psychological well-being and body image: A comparison of black women athletes and nonathletes. An exception to this pattern is a study by Tiggemann and Williamson (2000), who found that the relationship between exercise activity and self-esteem was positive for men, but not significant for women and even negative for young women under 21. The ANOVA for weight difference was run the exact same way (no covariates) as the previous univariate analysis, because this variable was not correlated with self-esteem, body-cathexis, or body image. Of particular interest, they demonstrate that the positive relationship between exercise activity and self-esteem appeared in the youngest group, who were about 11 years of age. Given this evidence of a causal relationship between exercise and self-esteem, it is quite possible that the present association has a similar direction. In addition, another recent study found no significant relationship between exercise and global self-esteem for senior high school students (Bowker, Gadbois, & Cornock, 2003).
Finally, although most research has considered self-esteem as a global concept, it has been argued that it should be decomposed into two dimensions: self-competence and self-liking, which respectively correspond to the instrumental and the intrinsic values of the self (Tafarodi & Milne, 2002). In view of these somewhat conflicting findings, we re-examined the relationship between exercise and self-esteem. One study with higher criteria was that of Iannos and Tiggeman (1997) where high, moderate and low activity was indicated by at least 11 hours, 5 to 11 hours, and less than 5 hours per week respectively. Given that self-competence reflects “abilities, skills, and talents” (Tafordi & Milne, 2002), it might be more strongly associated with exercise activity than self-liking.



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