Some people eat a lot after working out—and thus don’t lose weight—because they use food as a reward for their exertion. Framing the workout as “fun,” however, can negate this effect, according to a series of experiments done at Cornell University and reported in Marketing Letters.
In the first one, 56 women did a one-mile walk, followed by an all-you-can eat lunch. Half reported their energy levels at various points of the walk (the “exercise” condition), while the other half were given music players and asked to report the clarity of the music along the route (the “fun” condition). Those who listened to music consumed less dessert and soda afterward than those who did the “exercise” walk. In addition, though the two groups perceived the walk to be of equal physical effort, the “fun” group reported less fatigue and a more positive mood.
In the second experiment, people who did a one-mile sightseeing walk took fewer chocolate candies afterwards than those who did the same walk as “exercise.” And in the last experiment, when runners were given the choice of a cereal bar or candy after a race, those who said they had more fun during the event were more likely to pick the healthier snack.
“Labeling a physical activity as fun can have positive consequences in terms of subsequent food decisions,” the authors wrote, because when you get intrinsic enjoyment from the activity, you are less likely to seek extrinsic rewards—such as food—after. It may also be that “fun” exercise enhances perceived vitality, so you feel more energized without the need to compensate with food.
Besides listening to music (or an audiobook), you might also make your workout more fun by exercising with a friend or watching TV (while on a gym machine). Or take your exercise routine outdoors: Other research has shown that exercising in nature tends to be more enjoyable than exercising indoors.