Exercise is essential to sustain a healthy body and avoid the development of common chronic diseases. But merely going for a run or doing your routine weight training workout might not put you in the right mental state, and that can have a negative effect on your health.
There are many fitness buffs who enjoy their morning run or their weekly workout routine, but for others such a regimen becomes boring and eventually feels like a chore. Researchers from Cornell University found that framing physical activity a certain way plays an important role for one's exercise routine and it can also affect health. There's a big difference between a person who views their workout as 'fun' and another who views it as 'exercise.'
In a two-part study, Cornell researchers gathered a total of 102 adults who were led on a two-kilometer walk around a small lake, but some were told they would be participating in a 'scenic walk' and others were told it was an 'exercise walk.' In the first study, 56 adults completed the walk and were then given lunch. The participants who believed they were on an 'exercise walk' ate 35% more chocolate pudding for dessert compared to those who believed they engaged in a 'scenic walk.' But why?
The researchers noted that when an individual views their workout experience as 'exercise', they feel they need to reward themselves when it's completed. This was exemplified through food intake, while the adults who viewed the activity as exercise triggered their search for reward, thus feeling they deserved more dessert. This trigger actually causes someone to overeat after their workout, which is why many people in exercising programs find themselves gaining weight.
Similarly, in the second study, 46 adults took the same walk and were given mid-afternoon snacks upon completion. Again, those who believed the event was exercise ate 206 more calories of M&Ms; twice as much as those who believed it was a scenic walk. The trigger seemingly had these participants believing they deserved some sort of compensation for exercising as a part of the study. Through the findings, the researchers believe that professionals in the fitness and health care industries should urge consumers to make their physical activity fun for themselves.
"Do whatever you can to make your workout fun. Play music, watch a video, or simply be grateful that you're working out instead of working in the office," said Brian Wansink, author and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, in this summary of the study. "Anything that brings a smile, is likely to get you to eat less."
The study, "Is It Fun or Exercise? The Framing of Physical Activity Biases Subsequent Snacking," was published in Marketing Letters back in May.