FREIBURG, Germany — It’s a problem all too familiar for many people: You know you should exercise, but the thought of the strain and hard work on your body dissuades you. Or you’re in the middle of a jog, and all you can think about is how tired you are, so you stop. Exercising can be as much a mental pain as it is physical for plenty of us, but new research shows your attitude before you start your workout can make all the difference.
A study conducted by psychologist Hendrik Mothes of the University of Freiburg in Germany indicated that one’s expectations affected how difficult they perceived a particular physical activity to be. Mothes’ research team also found evidence suggesting that how you feel about yourself has a significant impact on the feeling of strain, too.
The study focused on 78 men and women between the ages of 18 and 32. Each participant rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes and was fitted with a compression shirt. Before the exercise, each participant was asked how athletic they thought they were. They were also shown a short film that either emphasized the physical benefits of riding a stationary bike, or dampened expectations. Some of the films also explained the benefits of wearing a compression shirt when cycling, while others described the discomfort they create when sweating. As the individuals rode the bike, they were asked every five minutes how much strain they were under.
The results fit with the researchers’ expectations. Those who started the exercise with a positive attitude found it less strenuous. The more athletic a participant felt themselves to be, the greater the effect. However, a positive attitude wasn’t strong enough to overcome feelings of athletic inadequacy.
The participants who also believed in the benefits of the compression shirt found it helped them, but only in those who didn’t view themselves as athletic.
“Not least, the findings impressively show for all those who don’t consider themselves to be great sportsmen and -women – the right product really can make sport more pleasant, if ‘only’ you believe in it,” says Mothes in a press release.
The full study was published June 29, 2017 in the journal PLOS ONE.