Some Exercise DVDs May Do More Harm Than Good

Using exercise 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.

So what may have begun in the new year as a burst of optimism about getting fit may wind up doing more harm than good, according to authors of a new study.

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

Additionally, the researchers 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, said Cardinal, the lead author of the study.

“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.’ ”

For the study, researchers reviewed 10 instructor-led fitness DVDs, evaluating both the imagery used in the videos, as well as the motivational language used by the instructors.

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 emphasizes physical appearance as opposed to improved health, he said.

The researchers also found that one-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.”

Those kinds of phrases focus on outcomes, encourage social comparison, and don’t take into account individual differences in health or fitness, Cardinal said.

“Tough love” phrases and strategies can also have a harmful effect because they can lead to injuries or other adverse health outcomes, he added.

Such messages could be particularly harmful to those who are turning to exercise DVDs to start a new fitness routine or who are uncomfortable in a gym or class setting, Cardinal said.

While the exercise videos were marketed to novice exercisers, 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, he noted.

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

“Buyers should beware when making these purchases,” he continued. “Remember that we all have different body shapes and styles, and our bodies may respond differently to the exercises being shown. Don’t expect to get the same results as what you see on the screen or compare yourself to others.”

The findings indicate that there is a need for more study related to commercial fitness DVDs, according to Cardinal.

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, he said. And many of the instructors appear to have little or no credentials in fitness instruction, he added.

“We don’t think the videos are very psychologically safe,” Cardinal said. “There are also questions about some of the exercises, which could lead to injuries and pose a real danger to the user.”

The study was published in the Sociology of Sport Journal.

Source: Oregon State University

PHOTO: Brad Cardinal is a professor of kinesiology at Oregon State University. Credit: Oregon State University.