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How to Boost Your Self-Esteem? Try Hitting the Weight Room

New research shows that physically stronger men have higher self-esteem.

Source: sportsandsocial/Flickr

It appears scientists have discovered yet another benefit of hitting the gym: It may increase your self-esteem.

At least this was the finding of a new study published in this month’s online issue of the Journal of Health Psychology.

Dr. Joseph Ciccolo, of Teachers College, Columbia University, led the study. He says the inspiration for the research came from a simple observation.

“Anecdotally, I have witnessed the psychological changes in young men when they lift weights,” said Ciccolo. “There hadn’t been any studies looking specifically at maximal muscular strength and self-esteem, so we did this study.”

Here’s what they did. Ciccolo, along with his team of researchers, recruited 126 college students, male and female, to take part in the study. They measured their muscular strength in two ways: first, by gauging the pressure of participants’ handgrip and, next, by having participants perform a one-repetition maximum squat. They also measured participants’ self-reported self-esteem.

What did they find? Ciccolo explains below:

“Overall, we found muscular strength to be correlated with self-esteem in our sample of college men and women. However, upon further analyses, we found this relationship to exist only for the men.”

The fact that muscular strength was associated with self-esteem for men but not women suggests that the relationship may be based more on societal values than on biological differences.

“It is not surprising that we found a gender difference given our current American culture,” comments Ciccolo. “For many young men, it is important to be perceived as strong, and the connection between a young man’s self-worth or self-esteem and his overall muscularity or physical strength is clearly evident in the mass media.”

Ciccolo, however, cautions against concluding that there is no relationship between muscular strength and self-esteem for women.

“There were fewer women than men in this study, so it may have been underpowered to detect meaningful relationships in the women. This also may be a unique population of college students, as all were enrolled in a weight-lifting class. Finally, longitudinal research is needed; this cross-sectional study has just given us initial insight to this important relationship."

If, in the future, a relationship is detected for both men and women, it might suggest that muscular strength, as an indicator of overall health and well-being, can actually influence one’s self-worth independent of societal pressures.

Future research notwithstanding, the take-away from this study is a good one: exercise certainly won’t decrease your self-esteem, it can only help boost it (especially if you’re a guy).

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Ciccolo, J. T., SantaBarbara, N. J., Dunsiger, S. I., Busch, A. M., & Bartholomew, J. B. (2015). Muscular strength is associated with self-esteem in college men but not women. Journal of health psychology, 1359105315592051.

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