Using fitness DVDs to work out at home may seem like a good way to get started on your New Year resolution to lose weight. But a new study has warned that these DVDs may also contain negative imagery and demotivating language, that will counter your efforts to lose weight.
A study of 10 popular commercial exercise DVDs by researchers at the Oregon State University (OSU) in US showed that the imagery in the fitness videos may be perpetuating and reinforcing hyper-sexualised and unrealistic body images.
The study reviewed these instructor-led fitness DVDs, evaluating both the imagery used in the videos as well as the motivational language used by the instructors. The goal was to better understand the visual and auditory messaging and how it might affect users.
Propagating a harmful body image
Researchers found that most of the instructors and models were slim, female and white, and they typically wore "revealing attire", which sends a subtle message about what people who are fit should look like.
This perpetuates objectification of the female body in particular and emphasises on physical appearance as opposed to improved health, researchers said.
Researchers also found that a 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 do not take into account individual differences in health or fitness," said Brad Cardinal from OSU.
"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 users who are turning to exercise DVDs to start a new fitness routine or who are uncomfortable in a gym or fitness class setting, researchers said.
The exercise videos were marketed to novice exercisers while 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.
"You are 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," said Cardinal.
"These findings raise concerns about the value of exercise DVDs in helping people develop and commit to a workout programme," he added.