Gender seemed to influence older people's views on their bodies. Men thought that having a body work well was more important than women did, and men also cared less about appearance than did women, the researchers found.
Overall, greater improvements in satisfaction with body function were associated with younger age, better health at the outset of the program, reduced body mass and greater amount of physical activity.
Previous research has linked declines in body function with reduced self-esteem and identity, the researcher said. And this study confirmed that as satisfaction with appearance and function grew, symptoms of depression declined. But the mental-health boost was even greater with perceived gains in bodily function than with changes in appearance, the study found.
Whites were more likely than blacks to report greater satisfaction with body functioning and appearance at the study's conclusion. The reasons for this were unclear but might be because the whites tended to have more room for improvement, the study said.
The overall study findings make sense to Colin Milner, founder of the International Council on Active Aging.
"You may not be as vain as you were before," he said of older exercisers. With age, many people come to appreciate that their body is functioning well. They are likely to say: "It is more important that I am able to get up and walk and play with my grandkids than my overall appearance," he said.
And even if you are still carrying a few extra pounds, he said, you are probably happier ''because you are able to do what you want to do."
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