Exercise is great for you. It makes you wonder why we don’t do it all the time. Oh yeah – it’s hard, sweaty and uncomfortable.
That’s especially true in a hot environment. When you work out in the heat, your body shuttles more blood to the skin in order to help heat escape—meaning less blood flows to the muscles and brain, causing fatigue to set in.
But now, in a new study, a group of researchers wanted to see if a person could overcome the negative effects of being in a hot space just by changing how they think.
The researchers had 18 competitive cyclists do an intense exercise session in the heat. Nine of the cyclists then took two weeks to train as normal. The other nine received sessions in motivational skills training, a kind of self-talk that involves “reframing” negative feelings – like how hot it is – into positive ones. Instead of thinking “My legs are burning” or “I’m sweating like crazy,” they were taught to come up with more positive, empowering phrases like “I’m doing well” or “I can handle this.”
At the end of two weeks, everyone came back to do the hot-exercise test again. The first group saw no change in their performance. But the experimental group improved a huge amount.
They were able to pedal for 25% longer than they were initially, and they could sustain high levels of discomfort for a lot longer than their peers. Their body temperatures were also hotter than those of their peers, suggesting that the brain has a lot of power in determining how far the body is able to push itself.
The results aren’t likely to shock athletes, who know that the mind is often the first thing to get tired. What is surprising is that the words you tell yourself can make such a difference.