Why do you exercise? Is it to lose weight? Recover from injury? Or do you do it because you love it? Your motives for pushing play or lacing up your shoes could have more of an effect than you think.
In a recent paper (spanning three different studies), researchers from both Cornell and New Mexico State University found a correlation between the way people categorize their physical activity and how much food they consume after. Those who found a workout to be fun consumed far fewer hedonic snacks (food eaten for pleasure, such as chocolate) and food in general as compared with those who viewed exercise as nothing more than that.
The first study sent two groups of people on a walk. The first group was told the walk was fun whereas the second group was told the walk was exercise. After the walk, participants had access to a free buffet. Those who were in the exercise group ate far more than the fun control group.
In the second study, participants participated in the same walking trial (fun or exercise), only this time they were given M&M’s. Like the first experiment, those who were told the walk was exercise ate more (this time over 200 more calories of M&M’s) than the fun control group.
For the last study, researchers observed people after a race (231 runners participated in the study, ranging in age from 16 to 60). The findings were consistent with the previous two studies; the runners who had more fun running the race chose healthier food options than those who didn’t, tending to eat less.
This is big news for people trying to lose weight or even for those trying to eat healthy. Simply labeling your exercise as fun could cut down on the number of calories you eat post workout. As for why, the researchers found that when you view a workout as fun, it takes your attention away from the effort of physical activity. The researchers also speculate that if you are internally motivated during a workout, you will be more energized, and are more likely to eat better after.
So before you begin your next workout, think about how you can make it fun. Try listening to music or finding a workout buddy who will help you enjoy that burpee and push-up routine just a little bit more.