Self esteem: “self-assessment ”; “Appreciation or consideration that he has of himself”. Physical activity can improve this assessment directly or indirectly. Looking good in the mirror is one of the causes, but there are many more that we will describe below.
High self esteem enhances mental growth and plays a prominent role in a person’s thoughts, feelings, and goals. People with higher levels of self-esteem evaluate themselves positively and have a positive attitude towards themselves.
Respect for oneself provides us inner security and confidence in ourselves, making us feel that we are worthy and deserving of good things. On the contrary, low self-esteem makes us feel inferior and discouraged when facing challenges.
There are several ways to improve self-esteem according to science. One of them is physical activity because it helps us raise our mental and physical power, directly related to the quality of life.
Self-concept: the linchpin
Physical activity can help people achieve a positive self-concept and promote psychological well-being through improved physical perceptions and body satisfaction.
We must first keep in mind that reality is neutral, and we are the ones who build it. An example is when we watch a soccer game, being us from one team, and the person with whom we see it from the other team. When our team scores, we will rejoice and celebrate, but our companion will be frustrated. It will happen the other way around when it is the other team that scores the goal.
And I, who am with you two watching the game, as I do not follow football, I will see something neutral from the outside: neither will I be happy, nor will I be frustrated. That is why self-esteem does not ultimately depend on a perfect body or on being the best at doing something. Our valuation and appreciation depends on how we view our abilities.
That is the difference between self-concept and self-esteem, related terms, but not synonyms. Self-concept is the opinion we have about ourselves, we judge ourselves. In this case it would be the goal in football. Self-esteem is the assessment we give to that self-concept, that is, how we react to the goal.
If we give una high score to our self-concept, self-esteem is high. If we give our self-concept a low score, our self-esteem is bad. That is why improving self-esteem goes far beyond waking up one day and feeling good by magic. It is an external and internal job.
Improving our body composition through physical activity is one of the factors from which our self-esteem benefits. Physical activity is useful not only to improve body composition, but also to promote neurological mechanisms that make we judge ourselves positively (self-concept) and appreciate ourselves more (self-esteem).
Areas related to self-esteem that improve with physical activity
Mental health: anxiety, stress and mood
Mental health has become a public health problem among young people around the world, being 20% of adolescents those that show some alteration this branch of the health. Physical activity is considered one of the important strategies to prevent and treat mental health problems.
It is due to a physiological or intrapersonal part, and to a social or interpersonal part. In this case we talk about the intrapersonal part, with ourselves. In the following sections we will focus on the interpersonal part, with other people.
Anxiety, depression, stress, anger, tension, negative mood, and low self-esteem are states that can be connected to each other. Physical activity alleviates low self-esteem and improves the mood due to its emotionally positive therapeutic effect.
Physical activity produces different beneficial mechanisms for our self-esteem in the brain, where moods and the presentation of our image as people are controlled. A recent review this year shows how moderate to vigorous physical activity is inversely associated with the chances of suffering from depression.
Furthermore, both the resistance training such as strength, stimulate our hormonal system making us feel good and relieving stress. If our mood is positive and we move away from anxiety and stress thanks to physical activity, our self-esteem is more likely to be high.
Social connection and belonging to a group
In addition to those physiological mechanisms from the inside out, physical activity connects us with other people and distracts us. Try having two thoughts at the same time, simultaneously. When we are distracted with physical activity and with other people, it becomes more complex to occupy our mind with some thoughts that undermine our self-esteem.
However, what happens if we are alone on the couch? Surely we have more time and “space” in our mind to receive negative thoughts than in the previous case, where occupation and social contact allows us to escape and have a positive state of mind.
Self-efficacy: the feeling of achievement and a better perception of our qualities.
Participating in physical activities increases our self-efficacy: believe that we are capable of accomplishing specific tasks. It is a feedback loop where we do something, we achieve it, we believe that we will be able to do something else, we achieve it … And so our self-efficacy and self-esteem grow.
This study is an example, where elite athletes with a very high level of competition showed a higher degree of self-esteem than those who were not athletes. Being successful in any field, such as sports in this case, can increase the confidence to perform different tasks.
Body image: improvement of body composition and better perception of our body
It is one of the factors that most influences psychological well-being, but we have already seen that it is not the only one. Being comfortable with our own body produces general positive feelings, but not being satisfied with it causes us to judge ourselves cruelly (self-concept) and that we assign ourselves a very negative assessment (low self-esteem).
We have already commented that the adolescent population has excessively high levels of mental health disorders. Our body, and the judgment we make of it, directly affects our self-esteem at all ages, but in adolescence it takes on vital importance.
Physical activity is the key to improving our body composition, helped by correct eating and a healthy lifestyle. Several are the investigations that associate the practice of physical activity with a better perception of the corporal image and a greater satisfaction with oneself.
It is advisable install physical activity as a habit for better self-esteem, since both the effects on our body image, as well as all the benefits mentioned above cease to occur if we stop doing it. A group of adolescents with obesity improved their self-concept thanks to a training program, but those who did not continue doing physical activity afterwards worsened in this regard.
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