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Health

Exercise intensity may affect your mood

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For many years research has proven just how much daily exercise can improve our overall health. But even with this information, some of us still dread exercise and can’t get past the idea of the sweating, aching, and tiredness it can make us feel.

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Paddy Ekkekakis explains why some of us may feel this way toward exercise more than others. Ekkekakis is a professor at Iowa State University and has been researching pleasure and displeasure responses resulting from exercise and physical activity for the past 25 years. His current focus is on the psycho-biological mechanism of the sense of fatigue, and reasons for avoiding physical activity.

Ekkekakis says research is inconclusive as to exactly why people feel an aversion to exercise, but what he has been able to study is how workout intensity correlates with mood.

“A typical scenario with American adults is they stop being physically active typically after college,” Ekkekakis said.

He credits this pattern to life’s interferences, such as starting a family or a new career.

“Then a time comes where they want to get back to exercise, and by that time they have put on weight [and] their fitness is definitely not what it used to be,” Ekkekakis said.

Usually when this happens, people want to see results quickly and may tend to over-do it when getting back to the gym, says Ekkekakis.

“In reality, people are just not ready after so many years of being sedentary for that kind of push,” Ekkekakis said. “So exercise registers in their memory as something unpleasant.”

Once your mind starts associating exercise with being negative, it can be hard for your body to shake the thought and start recognizing it as a positive.

Ekkekakis also says genetics can play a bit of a role in this theory; some people are born with more of a tendency to be active, while others are content being sedentary. However, the effect genetics has on how exercise makes people feel only accounts for a small percentage. Ekkekakis says, for the most part, the effect exercise has on mood is a learned response.

“It’s something that develops during the course of our lifetime,” Ekkekakis said.

This learned response can also be connected to the mind-set we have toward exercise.

“For a lot of people a major contributor to feeling better or feeling worse, is the knowledge that they have tried something that they perceive to be challenging…and they either succeeded, and therefore feel better, or have failed…and therefore feel worse,” Ekkekakis said.

If you feel you associate exercise as something negative, Ekkekakis says using distracters, such as music or TV when working out can help. These can improve your brain’s recognition of physical activity as long as the workout you do is at a proper intensity for your fitness level.