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Can happiness sabotage your workout?

Quick question: What mood do you think is the most conducive to exercise?



Neutral (neither happy nor sad)?

Why are we asking this?

One study hypothesised that the happier you were, the more likely you would want to exercise. They experimented to prove their idea, with rather interesting results:

Exercise and happiness: The experiment

The experiment involved 153 students who were divided into three groups. 72% of the participants had exercised in the three days leading up to the study, and over two-thirds stated that they exercised a minimum of three times per week.

The groups were shown a different eight-to-ten-minute video clip. One watched an excerpt from ‘America’s Funniest Home Movies’ that was meant to induce feelings of happiness. Another watched a sad clip from the movie ‘Marley & Me’ to make them feel sad. The third group watched part of a business documentary that would induce neutral feelings (neither happiness nor sadness).

Afterwards, the researchers asked the students about their workout intentions, assuming that there would be a higher rate of people from the ‘happiness’ group intending to exercise. 

The results were surprising. 

More students from the ‘neutral’ group said they were likely to plan an exercise session than the other two groups. Participants from the ‘sad’ group were the least likely to plan an activity, and students from the ‘happiness’ group came in second.

The study concluded that when the group made more emotional decisions, activities other than exercise were more appealing. 

24/7 Fitness’ thoughts on happiness and exercise

We all know that exercise releases endorphins that make us feel good - happy, even. Not to mention the feeling of accomplishment when you blast through an intense gym session. So, it does make sense that people whose emotions have been put into a ‘happy’ state feel less induced to exercise. 

It’s worth noting that the participants in the ‘neutral’ group weren’t considered unhappy; in fact, they were deemed happy in general; but they hadn’t been exposed to emotional stimuli that would impact their decisions. 

What wasn’t surprising about the study was that the group shown the sad clip were the least likely to exercise. If anything, the last year has taught us all that. 

How to hack the experiment

Think about what activities you usually do right before you exercise. Are you watching TV? Perhaps you workout straight after work. What can you replace your usual activities with to ensure you are in a ‘neutral’ state before your planned exercise session? 

If you usually watch TV to help you let go of your working day before exercising, choose a show or film that will be easy to turn off but won’t impact your mood (either positively or negatively). 

If you usually exercise after work, try to add a quick activity to put you in a neutral zone. Perhaps prepare dinner or do a household chore. It will help put you in an emotional state that increases your chances of wanting to exercise. It will cross activities off your to-do list so that you can relax for the rest of the evening once you have completed your exercise.  

People often associate exercise and happiness with how you feel after a workout, but now we know that being put in a ‘happy’ state before activity can work against you. 

No one wants you to be ‘unhappy’, but neutralising your emotional state can improve the chances of you following through with your exercise regime.