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Study: Believing exercise is beneficial makes it more beneficial

Participants who thought riding a bicycle had more positive benefits got more out of the exercise -- mentally and physically -- than those with a negative view.

By
Stephen Feller
A positive view of exercise improves the chance a person will exercise, but it may also increase the benefits of physical activity, according to researchers in Germany. Photo by Kryvenok Anastasiia/Shutterstock
A positive view of exercise improves the chance a person will exercise, but it may also increase the benefits of physical activity, according to researchers in Germany. Photo by Kryvenok Anastasiia/Shutterstock

BREISGAU, Germany, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Believing exercise is beneficial doesn't just motivate people to engage in physical activity, it may increase the beneficial effect of exercise, new research shows.

Researchers in Germany found people who believed in the health benefit of bicycling enjoyed exercise more and were more relaxed, potentially making the activity more beneficial overall.

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For the study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, the researchers recruited 76 people between ages 18 and 32, assigning them to groups who were shown one of several short films praising the positive health effects of cycling, or not.

The participants were also asked to answer surveys on their thoughts about physical activity before exercising for 30 minutes on a bicycle ergometer. The researchers used electroencephalography to measure participants' brain activity while cycling.

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Participants who already thought cycling was beneficial enjoyed exercise more, had more improvements to mood and saw greater reductions in anxiety.

Like those who walked in with high expectations, participants who saw a film about cycling's health benefits were also more relaxed and got more enjoyment out of the activity.

Both groups with a more positive outlook also saw greater increases in alpha-2 power, or the amount energy exerted during physical activity -- suggesting the positive outlook increased the physical benefits of cycling.

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While future research will focus on how mindset influences physical exertion during exercise, the researchers say expectations and mood going in can have a significant effect on the benefits of exercise.

"Beliefs and expectations could possibly have long-term consequences, for instance on our motivation to engage in sports," Dr. Hendrik Mothes, a psychologist and researcher in the department of sport science at the University of Freiburg, said in a press release. "They can be a determining factor on whether we can rouse ourselves to go jogging again next time or decide instead to stay at home on the couch."

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