Exercise has powerful benefits that go well beyond weight loss. A stronger immune system, better mood, lower blood pressure, and keeping your bones strong. Turns out that focusing on those benefits can make your workout seem easier, according to a study out of the University of Freiburg and published in the journal, PLOS ONE.
The researchers, led by psychologist Hendrik Mothes, MS, of the Department of Sport Science at the University, were inspired by the research showing that we commit to workout programs that we enjoy, and we tend to enjoy workout programs that we don’t perceive as overly strenuous. Mothes and his team wanted to explore factors that might change perceptions on the strenuousness of workouts.
Recruiting 78 volunteers, Mothes asked them to cycle for 30 minutes on an stationary bike. Prior to the workout, Mothes assigned the participants to one of four groups: Group one was told the exercise would result in health benefits. Group two was told it probably wouldn’t be all that healthy. Group three was given a compression shirt to wear that would—supposedly—enhance their health rewards. Group four was told they were only wearing the shirt for comparison purposes.
During the workout, Mothes kept track of how hard the volunteers thought they working—how strenuous the cycling felt. All of the participants were asked to rate their perceived exertion during the 30 minutes of cycling.
As the researchers expected, volunteers in the first group—the ones told that exercise would make them healthier—found the workout easier than their counterparts who expected no benefits. Similarly, the compression-shirt wearers who anticipated extra health rewards also found the exercise easier—though this was only true for volunteers who identified themselves as less athletically inclined.
Mothes and his team see the results as evidence of the placebo effect in exercise: If you focus on the benefits, you won’t mind the effort as much. But gadgets and gear seem to help only people without a strong athletic background, he says. “Whereas people who feel only little athletic can raise their perceived physical abilities by focusing their attention on the compression garment, people who already feel athletic cannot raise their perceived physical abilities much by a potentially helpful product,” Mothes says.
Mothes points out that these are only assumptions so far, and further research is needed to reveal the exact underlying mechanisms at play. He also believes that other exercise products could be used for that research, such as kinesiology tape. In the meantime, here are some awesome fitness tips to make your workout seem like less of a chore.