When you wish upon a star, it may make no difference who you are (according to the Disney song, at least). But it can make a difference in what you look like, according to a new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. People who simply believed their fitness plans were working were more likely to have success than people with more, ahem, realistic expectations.
Researchers divided 76 healthy adults into two groups: Those who had a positive mindset about exercise and those who were neutral. They were then put through the same 30-minute workout on a bike. While both groups showed mental and physical improvements from the exercise, those who believed they were going to have a great workout actually got a better workout. Not only did the positive peddlers report feeling happier and healthier than the other cyclists, but biometric monitoring showed they weren’t just imagining their results.
“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 lead author Hendrik Mothes, a psychologist from the University of Freiburg’s department of sport science.
But this superpower isn’t just for fitness fanatics who are naturally optimistic. You can train yourself to have a positive attitude, the study found, in order to get the same benefits. The researchers showed subjects who had neutral or negative feelings about exercise a video about the positive effects of cycling before their workout. When that happened, the participants said they enjoyed exercise more, felt happier, and were less anxious afterward.
“Beliefs and expectations could possibly have long-term consequences, for instance on our motivation, to engage in sports,” Mothes added. “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.”
Bottom line? What you think about your workout may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe exercising sucks and is pointless, then it probably will be. But if you believe it will make you healthier, then say hello to a better bod. Of course, it’s not enough to simply wish for a toned bod—you still have to do the work—but it’s nice to know positive thinking can get you there faster. Hey, every little bit helps.