Getting Fit: Why Mindset Matters


Getting Fit: Why Mindset Matters

Exercise offers so many health benefits that you can’t afford not to do it. The list of health problems that exercise lowers the risk of is long and continues to grow as more research comes out. If you want to protect yourself against chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes and improve your mood and productivity, exercise is “da bomb.”

To get the most benefits out of exercise, you need to be in it for the long haul and have the right mindset. No doubt, you wake up some mornings and wish you could lie in bed rather than lacing up your exercise shoes and grabbing a pair of dumbbells. Yet, once you get started, you’re glad you made the effort, and when you finish, you feel fantastic! Sound familiar? No one ever regrets a workout, assuming they didn’t get injured.

How’s Your Mindset? 

Having a positive mindset toward working out may even help you get better results from your workouts According to a new study carried out by researchers at the Freiburg’s Department of Sports Science, mindset and attitude matters. This study showed that exercisers who had a positive outlook about an upcoming exercise session enjoyed their workouts more. When the researchers measured their brain activity, they were more relaxed and showed less anxiety or negativity.

Although they didn’t determine whether participants with a positive attitude made greater fitness gains, it wouldn’t be surprising if they did. After all, if you have a positive mindset, you’re more likely to stick with your workouts and, potentially, push yourself harder.

Need more evidence that mindset matters? A fascinating study published in 2007 might convince you. In this study, 84 female room attendants, working in hotels in various locations, were told their housecleaning work met the criteria for an active lifestyle. This group believed their daily activities were enough to offer health benefits. Another group, serving as the control, was told nothing.

The results? The group who believed the work they were doing constituted “real” exercise lost weight, reduced their waist size, and lowered their blood pressure and body fat percentage over the course of the 4-week study. The same wasn’t true of the control group. The idea that mindset can change your body’s physiology is a fascinating one.

Indeed, the mind is powerful. Other studies show that weight trainers who believed they had taken a supplement, in one case steroids and another caffeine, performed better on strength-training exercises. In turn, studies show runners who were convinced they had received a performance enhancer were able to run faster.  It looks like our own beliefs can limit or enhance our performance and the benefits we get from working out.

Changing Your Mindset 

What comes to mind when you think about exercise? Some people think about sweating, feeling short of breath, and exhausted. For these guys and gals, exercise seems like too much work. These folks may have bad memories of being made to work out in gym class and not being able to do some of the exercises or, even worse, being ridiculed. Those memories stuck with them over the years and clouded their view of working out.

What about people who seemingly love to work out? Interestingly, some research suggests that the desire to exercise may be partially in our genes. In rats that love to be active, a portion of the brain called the nucleus accumbens lights up when they’re physically active, in this case, when they run on a wheel. This area isn’t turned on in when lazy rats exercise.

The nucleus accumbens is associated with feelings of reward and is also an area where dopamine, the “reward” neurotransmitter hangs out. The good news is when the lazy rats were forced to exercise regularly, their nucleus accumbens lit up more. So, you may be able to reprogram your brain to feel more rewarded when you exercise. The key is to do it and do it consistently. In response, you may be able to forge new pathways that make you feel satisfied when you work up a sweat.

Exercise Mindfully 

Research shows that people who exercise exclusively to lose weight or change their body composition are less likely to stick with it than are those who do it because it makes them feel good. Makes sense, doesn’t it? So, exercise for the sheer joy of movement and how it makes you feel afterward. Immerse yourself in the experience of working out. Get in tune with how your muscles feel as you contract them and focus on your breathing.

Embrace discomfort rather than trying to avoid it. Learn to love stepping out of your comfort zone. Recognize that a little pain is what leads to growth and change. Focus on your muscles moving, your breathing, and what your body is capable of rather than how many calories you’re burning. Be PRESENT in the experience rather than thinking about how tired you are and how you want to stop.

Also, don’t forget to keep your workouts varied and interesting. Changing your workouts regularly. When a workout starts to feel too routine, change it so there’s an element of novelty to your workouts. Don’t let the experience (or your workout) become stale. Your brain thrives on newness and challenge. Don’t let it get lazy or tune out.

The Bottom Line 

Mindset matters. It’s what helps you get out of bed and get motivated to move. As some studies show, having a positive mindset can even help you get better results out of your workout. It’s doubtful that you’ll approach every workout with enthusiasm. Yet, being more mindful when you exercise and appreciating how magnificent your body really is will give you an edge.



Science Daily. “ Believe it or not: Exercise does more good if you believe it will” August 11, 2016.

Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2016; DOI: 10.1007/s10865-016-9781-3Psychol Sci. 2007 Feb;18(2):165-71.

The Royal Society. 27 June 2011. Volume 366, issue 1572

Mark’s Daily Apple. “Does the Placebo Effect Apply to Exercise?”

Psychology Today. “Are Some of the Benefits of Exercise Due to Placebo Effects?”

New York Times Well. “Phys Ed: Do Our Genes Influence Our Desire to Exercise?”

Shape. “Exercise Gene May Determine If You Hate the Gym”

New York Times Well. “To Jump-Start Your Exercise Routine, Be Mindful”


Related Articles By Cathe:

Are Mental Blocks Keeping You from Getting Your Fittest?

5 Reasons Exercise is the Closest Thing to a Happy Pill

Sustained Energy: How to Stop Feeling Tired During the Day

Why Most People Don’t Exercise – and It’s Not Lack of Time

5 Things You Might Be Getting Wrong about Rest Days


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