The researchers in the study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine provided evidence that individuals can be positively or negatively influenced before engaging in exercise.
The researchers invited 76 men and women aged between 18 and 32 years where they had to exercise for 30 minutes on a bicycle ergometer and were separated into different groups. The participants were shown short films that either praised or trashed the effects of cycling on health.
The researchers asked the participants whether they had already believed in the positive effects of physical activity before beginning the test. The participants were asked to fill questionnaires about their well-being and their mood before and after the exercise and measured the participants’ brain activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG).
The results provided evidence for a placebo effect during exercise — participants who already believed that the physical activity would have positive effects before participating in the study enjoyed the exercise more, improved their mood more, and reduced their anxiety more than less optimistic test subjects.
“The results demonstrate that our belief in how much we will benefit from physical activity has a considerable effect on our well-being in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Hendrik Mothes, researcher at the University of Freiburg in Germany.
In addition, the study revealed neurophysiological differences that participants with greater expectations before the beginning of the study and those who had seen a film about the health benefits of cycling beforehand were more relaxed on a neuronal level.
“Beliefs and expectations could possibly have long-term consequences, for instance on our motivation to engage in sports. 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,” added Mothes.