For best results make exercise fun.
It’s September and you’ve miraculously stuck to your new year’s resolution – going to the gym three times per week. Admittedly, it can be a drag to get there but you are making great progress with your speed and distance on the treadmill. Yet the weight isn’t falling off. Why?
In the meantime, Sally is loving her new hobby, bushwalking, three times per week. Even though she gets puffed trekking up the hills she barely notices. She’s too busy gossiping and laughing with her friend Julie. She’s even losing weight – bonus!
So what is the story here?
Hedonic snacking: snacking on foods that are consumed mainly for pleasure rather than being a necessity.
Turns out when physical activity is perceived as fun people are likely to consume less dessert or be tempted by hedonic snacking. (Werle, Wansink, & Payne, 2015) In other words, if you are focusing on the effort you have made to exercise you may feel entitled to reward yourself in some other way afterwards. This is human nature at work – a tendency to “compensate previous efforts through hedonic consumption.” (Werle et al., 2015) Even reading about exercise could lead to increased food consumption! (Werle, Wansink, & Payne, 2011)
So, how do you make someone perceive exercise as fun? In their study, Werle et al. told their subjects that the purpose of the 30-minute walk was to do something fun as well as allowing them to listen to music. Having others around when you exercise also boosts the enjoyment. As Reis et al. put it, fun is more fun when others are involved. (Reis, O’Keefe, & Lane, 2017) The language you use can also make a difference. Try not to mention the effort the person is putting in during the exercise. Distract them by discussing enjoyable topics or pointing things out in the environment. Or, if you are working on specific exercises, assist with cues and ideal technique or focus on the pleasant elements of the exercise such as relaxed breathing, the lovely feeling of a stretch or, how energised they will feel once they finish the session. And finally, avoid any post-workout rituals that involve cafes and cakes!
Reis, H. T., O’Keefe, S. D., & Lane, R. D. (2017). Fun is more fun when others are involved. Journal of Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1221123
Werle, C. O. C., Wansink, B., & Payne, C. R. (2011). Just thinking about exercise makes me serve more food. Physical activity and calorie compensation. Appetite. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.12.016
Werle, C. O. C., Wansink, B., & Payne, C. R. (2015). Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking. Marketing Letters. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-014-9301-6