We all know the benefits of exercise. It strengthens our hearts, improves circulation and helps keep us healthy. Regular exercise helps our emotional health as well; it can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve our mood. It can make us feel better about ourselves. And according to research, it can make you feel attractive and sexy.
Self Image Views: Men Vs. Women
A study completed at the University of Arkansas surveyed over 400 students about exercise, health, body image and sexual performance. Among men, those who worked out every day felt they were highly attractive and were very satisfied with their sexual performance. Women, on the other hand, were not nearly as kind to themselves - only 63 percent of those who worked out everyday rated themselves above average in attractiveness and sexual performance.
Tina Penhollow, a doctoral candidate who completed the study, believes part of the reason for this difference is that men and women both work out for different reasons. "Guys do it mostly to ‘bulk up and get bigger,’ whereas females do it mostly for health reasons."  She also thinks that women who work out everyday may do so because they already feel insecure about their body image and no amount of exercise is going to make them feel any better.
But no matter the reason, those who worked out thought of themselves as more sexually attractive. For example, 80 percent of men who exercised two or three days per week described themselves as sexy and all of the men who exercised six or seven days per week believed they were sexy. Penhollow believes the study showed that the better we feel about ourselves, the more likely we are to think of ourselves as sexy.
Quantity May Not Matter
A review of 57 studies on exercise and body image showed that participating in some type of exercise, no matter how little, can help you feel better. "The simple act of exercise and not fitness itself can convince you that you look better," according to the University of Florida where the review took place. 
Poor self-image, or at least body image, is widespread, with approximately 60 percent of adults in the United States indicating dissatisfaction with the way their body looks. Billions of dollars are spent each year trying to improve physical looks, including cosmetic surgery, dieting programs and other products. While some use these products and services for health reasons, many spend their life dieting to try to look like the models seen on television and in magazines.
The surprising result from the study was that it didn’t seem to matter how much exercise was needed for people to feel better. Heather Hausenblas, who completed the study, said, "We would have thought that people exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week, would have felt better about their bodies than those who did not work out as much." But results showed there wasn’t any difference - even those who exercised a little or moderately showed an improvement in body image.
Small Improvements Add Up
Joan Chrisler, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Connecticut College, told SELF Magazine, "If you feel good about your body, you’ll want to take care of it. The more care you take of it, the happier you’ll end up feeling. It makes sense that if someone is dissatisfied with her looks, she can help herself feel better by giving her body the right fuel, getting enough exercise and seeking proper medical attention." 
But it is difficult, especially if you haven’t been exercising or paying attention to what you eat, to make major changes all at once. Make one small, healthy change instead, Chrisler suggests. This change can help you feel better about yourself, and may lead to another small change, and then another. It can propel you to take better care of yourself in many ways. So don’t worry that you aren’t doing everything right…start small and improve your outlook on life and your image of yourself. Pretty soon you will be feeling sexy.
"Body Image at the Gym," 2011, Aug. 23, Sally, Already Pretty
 "Does a Woman’s Body Image Affect Her Exercise Routine?" Date Unknown, Valerie Frankel, SELF Magazine
 "Even Modest Exercise Boosts Self-Image," 2009, Oct 8, Staff Writer, LiveScience.com
 "Study: Better Fitness Means Better Sex," 2005, March 9, Lee Dye, ABCNews.com
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.