At some stage or another, we've all had a day where we would prefer to do anything but exercise, but have begrudgingly trudged off to the gym anyway. Of course, at the end of the session you're patting yourself on the back for pushing through, because your work out has made you feel fantastic and has left you wondering why you even considered skipping.
Exercise has been known as a mood lifter for a long time. Studies have shown that it sends serotonin and other feel-good chemicals coursing around the bloodstream, and regular exercise is even recommended by doctors to help treat depression.
A team of American scientists has cracked a secret that can make exercise even better, and it's something that a lot of us are already doing.
The team rounded up 84 participants and divided them into four groups. Two groups got to watch TV and work out at the same time, with one group watching a show they liked, and the other unlucky group watched a show they had previously rated as unenjoyable. A third group worked out with the TV turned off, while a fourth group did what many of us feel like doing after a long day, and watched television without working out. Participants filled out questionnaires that ranked their mood, both before and after performing their allocated activity.
The study easily proved what we already know – that exercise alone is sufficient to improve mood. While mood amongst the television watchers remained stable, the three groups that performed exercise all reported a heightened mood after working out.
The study also generated a very interesting result that had not been previously shown, which - an enjoyable distraction during exercise significantly heightens post-exercise mood over exercise only, and over a distraction that the participant does not enjoy.
Positive reinforcement is something that is so important to an effective training regime. It is well known that people who enjoy their workouts are more likely to stick to their schedules and reach their goals faster. This means that getting that spot on the bike in front of the TV, or making an awesome workout playlist has more benefits than you might have thought. And if your training partners are amused by your unconscious lip-sync to "Eye of the Tiger", they're going to benefit too. Hey, don't be embarrassed, it's a great song...
Privitera GJ, Antonelli DE, Szal AL. An Enjoyable Distraction During Exercise Augments the Positive Effects ofExercise on Mood. J Sports Sci Med. 2014 May 1;13(2):266-270.