I love the message in this recent column in the New York Times Well Blog: Maybe we should take the “work” out of “workout.”
Although those aren’t the words the writer used, the essence of the article is just that. If we can frame fitness activities as playtime rather than another “must-do,” we’re more likely to stick to them and enjoy their benefits.
Apparently, data shows the importance of attitude in our health and fitness regimens, particularly with regard to exercise. Not surprising, you say?
In “Losing Weight May Require Some Serious Fun,” Gretchen Reynolds addresses the conflicting and frustrating results that many experience when increased exercise doesn’t equate to lost pounds. (Been there, done that… Frustration with a capital F.) Or, at the very least, we aren’t losing to the extent that we might expect.
I Exercise… Why Don’t I Lose Weight?
It’s an age old question (and one I’ve been asking myself lately): I exercise… so why don’t I lose weight?
While we could fall back on the old standby – we’re hungrier after exercise so we eat more, and we’re adding muscle so we don’t drop weight – Ms. Reynolds highlights a new study that is intriguing.
Specifically, the study focuses on what and how much we eat after exercise.
An unconventional new study suggests that people’s attitudes toward physical activity can influence what they eat afterward and, ultimately, whether they drop pounds.
So the issue, at least in part, deals with what you eat after you work out, and that may be a factor of your (positive) attitude headed into your exercise routine.
Mind-Body Connection in Appetite
Perhaps like you, I was always under the impression that the extent to which I was hungry (or not) following light or strenuous exercise has more to do with my body’s physical needs than anything else, including those mysterious appetite hormones. Therefore, it didn’t occur to me that attitude could come into play. And so, aggravated by a rainy day (for example), I might drag myself out for a 30-minute walk, but without enjoying any element of it.
As an avid believer in the power of the mind-body connection, I’m surprised I never thought about why I might be hungrier after exercise on some days than others. I always chalked it up to days with more stress or a better night’s sleep.
While the research referenced in this article utilized small samples, in essence, the various experiments position exercise in a (“fun”) light for one group, and as (“serious”) exercise for the other. Each group was then allowed to select foods following their exertion, and those who felt they’ve just indulged in play made healthier, lower calorie selections.
Ms. Reynolds elaborates:
… researchers turned to psychology and the possible effect that calling exercise by any other name might have on people’s subsequent diets…
Apples Over Apple Pie
As for the results according to the article:
… In aggregate, these three experiments underscore that how we frame physical activity affects how we eat afterward… If exercise is fun, no additional gratification is needed. If not, there’s chocolate pudding.
The researchers aren’t entirely sure of the reasons that attitude is influencing appetite to such a degree. I am wondering how many others ever considered the words they use in gearing up for exercise as they, like me, may have grumbled through a workout on days when they would rather do anything but hit the treadmill, the jogging trail, or the StairMaster.
Not only is this good news (even if only a possibility), but I also find it fascinating. We know that language can trigger memories or imagery that may enhance mood or turn it sour. We know the importance of using our words to influence perception and self-esteem. But if we can condition ourselves to use other terms for tedious activities in general, might it help?
Singing in the Rain?
Can we amp up energy for mopping the floor or tackling the late night project for the boss? For example, just how powerful is “I can” versus “I must?” Is this a contemporary take on the old “psyching oneself up” – with a focus on language?
Now that I know my attitude concerning my 30-minute walk may be a factor in how I’ll feel afterwards (and how much I’ll eat, and what I will choose), I just may put on a smile and gear up for thinking of my daily walks as fun. And that will include the rainy days when I typically drag myself around, muttering and tense.
The better approach?
I’ll whistle a little tune to get myself in the mood, and even engage in a bit of singing in the rain.