What if the way you talk about exercise makes getting results more difficult? Would you change how you talk, think, and feel about exercise?
If you’re ever said to yourself “I’ve got to work off cupcakes so I need a killer workout today,” or if you are a trainer and you’ve said to your clients, “You’d better hit it hard today! Time to work off all those happy hour drinks.” then you could be making a mistake without realizing it.
We often use hard workouts to work off the calories from nutritional mistakes over the weekend, the holidays, on a weeknight happy hour, or at the office birthday party.
If we accept the idea that we need to exercise to “work off calories,” it becomes a chore – a task drained of most of its possibility for enjoyment. And as it turns out, if exercise is viewed as a burden, another to-do list item to check off, and one more thing to get through, we will derive less results from it. Wait, what?
If You Think It’s Enough, It Just Might Be
If you think your exercise program is/isn’t “enough,” then it likely will/won’t be. In one study published in Psychological Science, a group of hotel housekeepers were placed in one of two groups – the “informed group” or the “non-informed group.”
The housekeepers who were told that their daily activity level on the job was enough to successfully meet government guidelines of 30 minutes of daily exercise (the informed group), experienced noteworthy physical improvements not enjoyed by the housekeepers who were told nothing about their activity levels (the non-informed group.)
On average, housekeepers clean 15 rooms per day, each taking 20 to 30 minutes to complete. The housekeepers did not perceive their job as exercise. The study posed the question that if the housekeepers’ mind-set is shifted so that they become aware of the exercise they are getting; would health improvements follow?
Using 84 female housekeepers from seven hotels, women in four hotels – the “informed group” – were told that their regular work was enough exercise to meet the requirements for a healthy, active lifestyle, (based on government guidelines) whereas the women in the other three hotels were told nothing – the “non-informed group.” To determine if the placebo effect plays a role in the benefits of exercise, the researchers investigated whether subjects' mind-set (in this case, their perceived levels of exercise) could inhibit or enhance the health benefits of exercise independent of any actual exercise. (Meaning, the researchers made sure none of the housekeepers were participating in an exercise program outside of work.)
Four weeks later, the researchers returned to assess any changes in the women's health. They found that the women in the informed group had lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10 percent, and were significantly healthier as measured by body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio. These changes were significantly higher than those reported in the control group and were especially remarkable given the time period of only four weeks.
Why This Matters
Consider how many people you know who feel they aren’t doing “enough” exercise. You may believe this yourself. Whatever that actually means and whether or not it is actually true may not matter as much as that belief. In other words, if you believe you are doing enough exercise, your body will derive more benefit from exercise. Your belief about the quality of your exercise efforts can affect the efficacy of those efforts.
The Nocebo Effect
The familiar “placebo effect” is in sharp contrast to its less well-known, subtler relative, the “nocebo effect.” It is essentially this: negative outcomes result from negative expectations.
Viewing exercise as a forceful and distasteful endeavor defeats its purpose. This physiological response to a psychological reaction can negate many of the beneficial effects of exercise. When researchers invoke psychological stress during an exercise routine in otherwise healthy adults, they observe a marked elevation in stress hormones, oxidative stress, and inflammatory chemicals.
So what? Here’s why this is a problem.
Many of you may have immediate, rapid-fire negative mental associations with words linked to exercise or to thoughts about exercise. And when you add the usual demands of daily life to put you in a time-pressured, fatigued state, these automatic associations can dictate reflexive avoidance behavior and generate an irresistible, magnetic pull toward inactivity.
Yet you dig deep, and summon the willpower to exercise one more time. When this cycle repeats, willpower gets exhausted and when that happens, you get mentally exhausted, and exercise usually stops.
You cannot dislike, and grudgingly participate in, exercise and expect to get results. You will either (1) eliminate many of the benefits by perceiving it as negative, or (2) do it on willpower alone and stop after several weeks.
Harmony is when our ACTIONS and DESIRES point the same direction. Wanting to NOT exercise but doing it anyway erodes willpower, and is a kind of misery. Seeking exercise saves willpower for other things – and willpower is not intended for things we are doing daily. Fitness is a welcome journey, not a forced march.
Take Home:When we let the clichés of the common, negative ways many people frame up fitness define how we think and feel about fitness, we lose some of the physiological benefits of a single session and make continued participation more difficult by creating more significant psychological barriers. You hear it all the time; ”I have to work out…”
- …to lose weight so I don’t feel and look disgusting.
- …to work off all the weight I put on from holiday cookies.
- …because I know I should.
- …to work off enough calories for all the partying I’m going to do this weekend.
And we wonder why feeling good and staying healthy remain elusive.
At SPRI, we believe in elevating the experience of a single workout session and transforming the perspective on fitness. In our sessions,
- You want to perform better during each exercise rather than just survive it.
- We celebrate each challenge as an opportunity to express love of life through movement
- We connect fitness to something larger than just the workout – to your life. Whatever you love about life, it gets better when you’re fitter.
Our Master Instructors teach these concepts in every single one of our live presentations. Come see us at a fitness event soon to experience this positive, process approach to fitness and learn how to reach inside and switch on desire for health. Movement and workouts become less like a chore and more like a gift when this shift in mindset occurs.
“I have to go to go workout.” becomes “I get to move my body in challenging ways.”
“I need to work up a sweat.” becomes “I get to move in a way that clears both body and mind of stress.”
“I have to go for a run.” becomes “I get to move through nature and notice things I encounter.”
“I need to work off some serious calories.” becomes “I want to move as much of my as possible to explore what my limits are today.”
In life’s hard things, there are many hidden good things which are less hidden once we choose to see them. If you don’t enjoy it, you shouldn’t be doing it. When it comes to physical activity, there truly is something for everyone. Discover what drives you to move, then do more of that!