Relationships between physical activity, self-perceptions and physical status in adolescents and adults

Nadine Zillmann

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    [Truncated abstract] Regular engagement in physical activity is proven to decrease the risk of numerous chronic diseases and to improve mental well-being. However, many children and adults around the world fail to engage in sufficient levels of activity required to produce health benefits, with reports showing physical activity levels still on the decline. Perhaps because of this increase in sedentary lifestyles, obesity has become one of the biggest public health threats in the 21st century. Furthermore, both obesity and physical inactivity are closely related to psychological health, and may play an important role in shaping self-perceptions and feeling of general well-being. '...' In the first study, physical status, physical activity levels, and social physique anxiety measures were obtained from an adolescent sample of 259 participants. Partial correlation analyses revealed that physical activity involvement was not directly linked with physical status; however, both factors were significantly associated with social physique anxiety, which suggested evidence of an indirect link between the two constructs. That is, analyses showed that poor physical status was associated with higher levels of physique anxiety, which in turn linked to low engagement in physical activity. In addition, age and gender effects emerged, revealing unique differences in the ways in which these three variables may be related. To cross-validate and further examine these relationships STUDY 2 extended the range of self-perception measures to include a multidimensional assessment of physical self-concept and a global self-esteem measure along with physique anxiety. These variables were assessed in a German adult sample (N = 229), again alongside measures of physical status and physical activity involvement. Consistent with STUDY 1, no direct link was found between physical status and levels of physical activity involvement. However, evidence of an indirect link did emerge as both variables were related to multiple dimensions of physical self-concept, thereby reinforcing and extending the findings from STUDY 1. Furthermore, age effects emerged for physical self-concept, which had not been confirmed in previous research on physical self-concept. STUDY 3 employed a longitudinal design and investigated changes in physical self-concept, global self-esteem and social physique anxiety before, during, and after participation in a 12-week weight management programme. Participants (N = 63) were assigned to one of three conditions: (1) cognitive-behavioural treatment only, (2) cognitive-behavioural treatment and exercise, and (3) non-treatment control. Statistical analyses revealed a small, but significant reduction in weight for members of both treatment groups. Relative to controls, both treatment groups also improved on a variety of physical self-concept dimensions. At the same time, however, significant group main effects suggested that a weight-loss program incorporating exercise involvement may provide physical self-concept benefits that go beyond those obtained with standard CBT regimes. Collectively, these studies add to the growing body of literature on the connections between physical activity, self-perceptions and physical status. They also highlight the importance of involvement in habitual physical activity throughout the lifespan. Findings are discussed with regards to their contribution to the extant literature, and applied implications, limitations, and future directions are considered.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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