Maximise Your Workout by Believing it's Doing You Good

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Posted: 07/09/2016 Print

Maximise Your Workout by Believing it's Doing You Good

Guest article by Sam Hadadi,

Exercise Psychology

Whether it’s plunging through a glistening pool on a hot summer’s day to smashing through the finish line after a gruelling marathon, the happiness and euphoria that can go hand-in-hand with exercise is priceless.

From giving us a much-needed confidence and body boost to the release of smile-inducing endorphins, getting sweaty has long been linked to a positive outlook on life.

Yet, if you find exercise a bit of a chore, you might want to start embracing that positive attitude well before you pull on your trainers. You see, a new study has shown that believing that exercise will have a positive effect is even more important for our health and wellbeing, than getting sweaty itself.

In the research, psychologist Hendrik Mothes (based at the University of Freiburg's Department of Sport Science) worked with a team to prove that people gain more – both psychologically and in terms of our health – from exercise if they go into it with a wealth of positive thoughts.

The team even found that people can be positively or negatively influenced before they take part in sports or physical activity.

The Study

Want to know more? Of course you do! After all, this study could pave the way for each and every one of us to get even more out of our exercise.

As part of the research, the team invited 76 men and women aged 18-32 into their labs, where they had to exercise for 30 minutes on a bicycle. Before this, the participants were split into different groups and shown one of several short films that either heaped praise on the amazing effects of cycling, or outright criticised it.

As well as this, the researchers asked the subjects whether or not they believed in the positive effects of exercise. The participants then put pen to paper on questionnaires which quizzed them about their well-being and their moods both before and after the exercise. Going one step further, the researchers even measured their brain activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG).

What Did They Find?

So, what did they find and how can you use it to ensure you get the most out of those daily workouts?

We’ll leave it to the expert, Hendrik Mothes, to summarise:

"The results demonstrate that our belief in how much we will benefit from physical activity has a considerable effect on our well-being in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

In other words, if we think we’re going to get a lot out of exercise, we will! On the flipside, if we charge into an exercise class, expecting it to do us no good, then it’s unlikely that we’ll reap the rewards, so all that effort (and money) will go to waste.

In fact, so convincing were these results that participants who believed the physical activity would have positive effects even enjoyed exercising more. As well as this, they saw their moods soar, while their anxiety levels plummeted. They were even more optimistic!

As if that weren’t enough to convince you to enter your next body balance class with a smile on your face, then listen to this: the study even revealed a neurophysiological difference (that’s differences in the nervous system, to you and I) between the test subjects.

When they looked at brain activity, those with higher expectations before the beginning of the study (particularly those who had watched the film about the health benefits of cycling first) were more relaxed on a neuronal level.

You’ll also be pleased to hear that the results don’t just apply to cycling and can be found in other endurance sports like jogging, swimming, or cross-country skiing. In other words, whatever exercise you enjoy or want to take up, there’s something to take away from this: go into it with a smile and think about all those body-loving benefits you’re about to enjoy!


As Mothes said: "Beliefs and expectations could possibly have long-term consequences, for instance on our motivation to engage in sports. They can be a determining factor on whether we can rouse ourselves to go jogging again next time or decide instead to stay at home on the couch."

The psychologist is now working on studying different effects of our mindsets, as well as looking at whether they have a say in how much effort we put into exercise.

Feeling Inspired?

If you love to exercise or want to know more, then we have plenty more to keep you entertained! A recent article looked at 'How Much Exercise Do We Need?' and you can pop over to our YouTube channel for workout sessions with Karl the trainer, Meg and Daisy (see our video above).


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About Sam

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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.

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