Exercise more, eat more: This has long been the inherent problem in increasing your physical activity. But a new study from the journal Marketing Letters offers a small, simple shift in thinking. Reframe the way you think of exercise, the authors argue, regarding it as a fun diversion rather than a chore, and you may be less inclined to pig out on junk food afterward.
The findings showed that when physical activity was perceived as fun (e.g., when it is labeled as a scenic walk rather than an exercise walk), people subsequently consume less dessert at mealtime and consume fewer hedonic snacks. A final observational field study during a competitive race showed that the more fun people rated the race as being, the less likely they were to compensate with a hedonic snack afterwards. Engaging in a physical activity seems to trigger the search for reward when individuals perceive it as exercise but not when they perceive it as fun.
I’ve been running recreationally for about six years now, and around this time last year, something clicked: No one is making me do this! In other words, if I wasn’t enjoying it, why even bother? It seems like such a small thing, but it changed my entire outlook. Years ago, I trained for a marathon and spent most of the training runs daydreaming of exactly what I wanted to eat the minute those stupid miles were over. It’s horribly cheesy, but these days, the pure enjoyment of running is reward enough. (Though, okay, the occasional post-run Popsicle also doesn’t hurt.)