It can be hard to love exercise, but there’s now more reason to start finding ways to enjoy it the same way you enjoy playing a video game, going shopping, or petting your dog. Why? Because doing so could help you make more healthier food choices.
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A 2014 research review found in Marketing Letters examined three studies that explored the relationship between diet and exercise for weight loss. Interestingly, the review looked at the association between people’s framing of exercise as fun and their subsequent food choices. It concluded that those who perceived exercise as a fun activity (and not just a ton of effort) were less inclined to compensate with junk food after their workouts.
In the first two studies, participants performed exercises that were either described as exercise, or as fun, and were later served food: an all-you-can-eat scenario with both desserts and “normal” foods in the first study, and M&Ms from a self-serve container in the second. The findings from both suggest that the people who felt exercise was “fun” chose less junk food during those meals. Similarly, runners that had fun during a race in the third study tended to choose the healthier option of two given snacks.
These findings appear to support something that Precision Nutrition refers to as “hedonic compensation,” wherein if people feel like they have been deprived of pleasure in one place they will compensate by seeking it elsewhere (i.e. “I had a tough week, I deserve to relax and have a beer.”)
So, how can you see exercise as fun? Well, it won’t happen instantly, but you can find ways to enjoy it more. Listen to your favourite music, actually do something you look forward to (don’t run on the treadmill if you hate the treadmill, for example), play sports with friends or family, take your activity outside with a hike or bike ride, or make it a friendly competition or social event. I love playing Ultimate frisbee myself. It’s a killer workout, and it feels more like playing than exercise for me.
Basically, think about why you enjoy the things you call hobbies. While exercise is good for you, it should be a hobby, not a chore.