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Perception is reality

Exercise: Perception is reality

How you perceive a training session will have a major influence on its outcome.

Scientists at the University of Freiburg in Germany found that how people felt played a big role in their feeling of strain during exercise. They invited 78 men and women between the ages of 18 and 32 to participate in a study where they were asked to ride a stationary bicycle for 30 minutes. Prior to the physical test the subjects were asked how athletic they perceived they were. They were then asked to put on a compression shirt produced by a popular sporting goods manufacturer. During the exercise the subjects were asked every five minutes what level of strenuousness they were experiencing.

It’s all in the head

Prior to the exercise session, subjects were assigned to different groups and shown one of several short film clips that either stressed the positive health effects of the coming activity, or dampened the expectations. The compression shirts were also mentioned: In some of the films, the shirts were praised as an additional help in cycling, while other clips indicated that they would make the test persons’ sweating comparable.

“What the participants did not know was that we used these film clips with the aim of influencing their expectations of the coming cycling session,” researcher Hendrik Mothes says.

“Merely the belief that the shirt would help, did help the ‘unsporty’ subjects to have a lower perception of strenuousness during the exercise.”

The effect of placebo

The evidence further reinforces the effect of placebo on a physical activity. It does make a difference what you think about exercise.

According to Mothes and his team training was less strenuous for people who started with a positive attitude. The more athletic they perceived themselves to be the stronger this effect was. They also found that believing in the compression shirt helped. Subjects in the study who considered themselves not very athletic also influenced their performance in a negative manner.

The study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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