Struggling To Get Into A Fitness Routine? Try This One Thing

The majority of the research on exercise motivation boils down to one question: how do you convince yourself to do something regularly if you fundamentally dislike it? It’s a tough question, but we might have found a solution.

Exercise is hard. Really hard. There’s no denying it. No matter the fact that putting foot to pavement on the reg is pretty daunting, getting the motivation to leave your bed early or strap on a pair of runners after work is another battle in itself.

Luckily, there might be hope. A new study suggests that to make regular exercise more palatable, you just have to make your expectations more positive. Mental manipulation of the effect exercise will have, if you will.

Run and fun are just one letter off, you know.

A study led by the University of Colorado recruited 101 healthy men and women aged 18 to 45 in order to test this theory. None of the participants were particularly good athletes, but were tasked with running on a treadmill for 30 minutes until their “ventilatory threshold,” or a pace that leaves them out of breath. Participants were then tasked to repeat the same amount of exercise every day for seven days, with assessments done after each run.

However, before they began, the researchers asked the participants about how they expected to feel while running. A third of the participants were then unwittingly manipulated to feel good about their workout – they did so by telling them that the most people exercising at this intensity often feel good, energised and relaxed afterwards. (True though.) In contrast, they told another third that most people find this kind of intense exercise tough and unpleasant, and that they’d likely feel tired afterward. The expectations of the remainder of the participants acted as controls and weren’t manipulated.

This is fun. Isn’t this fun? I am having fun.

The results? Those manipulated to expect the run to be more enjoyable actually showed greater increases in positive feelings, compared to the negatively manipulated runners. Compared to the control participants, they also remembered the run as less tiring, which is crucial – the more these positively manipulated participants remembered the lab run, the more they ran through the week.

It’s important to note that a week is probably not long enough to assess long-term behaviour change. However, it does point to a very interesting strategy based on the fact that memory is often very easy to manipulate. If you head off on a run feeling good about it, then you’re likely to remember it as being less fatiguing that it probably was.

Basically, it’s valuable to have a positive outlook: the more hopeful you are about a task, the more likely you’ll do it again. Keep that in mind the next time you put foot to pavement. It’s mind over matter, people.

[h/t Science of Us, Research Digest]