There appears to be a benefit to exercise for women that researchers are just now exploring more deeply—and it has more to do with what happens in their brains than in their muscles. Researchers at the University of British Columbia report in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise that in the 20 minutes following a 30-minute workout, the women they studied viewed themselves as not only stronger and having less body fat, but feeling more empowered, too. "We think that the feelings of strength and empowerment women achieve post exercise stimulate an improved internal dialogue," the lead author says in a statement, per the New York Post.
The study was small and very specific: Researchers asked 60 college-aged women who exercise regularly and have a history of body image issues to work out for a half-hour or sit quietly and read during that time. So not only does the study need to be replicated among a larger cohort, but it doesn't necessarily speak to women who are of different ages, or who don't exercise regularly or have body image issues in the first place. Still, the researchers say it's not a stretch to suggest that exercise can help certain women replace negative body thoughts with positive ones, reports NDTV. Previous studies have also found that exercise can help people crave healthier foods and can improve cognitive functioning. (Exercise appears to reap benefits for pregnant women and their babies, too.)