Exercising for appearance versus health reasons: Associations with latent classes of mental health


Individuals who are motived to exercise for appearance versus health reasons are likelier to report worse body image and disordered eating. It is also possible that mental health may be negatively impacted more broadly when exercising to manage appearance. The present investigation examined how appearance and health motives for exercise are associated with indices of mental health and well-being. A community-based sample of adults (N = 520; 57.5% male; Mage = 35.43, SDage = 10.01) completed an online survey and self-reported the extent to which they exercise for appearance and health motives, and a range of mental health constructs (i.e., depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, psychological distress, self-compassion, flourishing, life satisfaction). Latent class analysis was used to identify distinct patterns of mental health, and appearance and health motives were used to predict class membership after controlling for age, gender, body mass index, and physical activity. A three-class model of mental health indicators provided the best fit to the data and consisted of a well-being (42%), psychopathology (24%) and a mixed group (34%). Exercising for appearance motives predicted membership in the psychopathology class (OR = 1.20) and mixed classes (OR = 1.14), while exercising for health motives was associated with decreased odds of belonging to either the psychopathology (OR = 0.77) or mixed class (OR = 0.90), relative to the well-being class. Collectively, these findings extend research that has focused on body image and disorderd eating, and suggest that exercising for appearance reasons may undermine mental health and well-being more broadly.