Exercise has powerful benefits that go well beyond weight loss. A stronger immune system, better mood, lower blood pressure, and keeping your bones strong. Turns out that focusing on those benefits can make your workout seem easier, according to a study published in the journal, PLOS One.
Hendrik Mothes, MS, a psychologist with the Department of Sport Science at the University of Freiburg wanted to explore factors that might change how people felt about their workouts—especially strenuous ones.
He recruited 78 volunteers and split them into four workout groups: All of them would cycle for 30 minutes on a stationary bike, but one group was told the exercise would result in health benefits while another was warned (falsely) that the cycling probably wouldn’t do that much for them. Mothes gave groups three and four compression shirts to wear and told some of the cyclists that it would enhance their health benefits (the rest got no explanation).
During the workout, the volunteers tracked how difficult the exercise felt and how much effort they were putting out. As Mothes and his team expected, volunteers who believed the workout would be beneficial were the most likely to say that their efforts were tolerable. Among the cyclists wearing the compression shirt, those who were new to exercise and believed the shirt would boost their benefits also found the exercise to be easier.
Mothes and his team see the results as evidence of the placebo effect in exercise: Believing in the power of exercise makes the effort easier. But he was surprised to find that workout gear seemed to help mostly people who were novice exercisers. According to Mothes: “People who feel only a little athletic can raise their perceived physical abilities by focusing their attention on the compression garment; people who already feel athletic cannot raise their perceived physical abilities much by a potentially helpful product.”
Mothes points out that these are only assumptions so far, and further research is needed to reveal the exact underlying mechanisms at play—but that it can’t hurt to focus on what exercise can do for you to help you get through arduous workouts. He also believes that other types of exercise products could be helpful in the same way as the compression shirt, such as kinesiology tape. In the meantime, here are some awesome fitness tips to make your workout seem like less of a chore.