Lately I've been thinking about the best way for those of us who have diabetes to get the exercise we need to stay in shape and to help us manage our diabetes better. But until now I only had my own opinion.
The best exercise, I had decided on the basis of my experience, was to get the exercise we like, because that's the only exercise that you or I will keep on doing. That's true, but frankly I didn't have much more to say about it. Now I do, because a new study shows for a fact that this is what works.
This morning Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab announced some exciting new research. It had appeared in the May issue of a journal that I wouldn't otherwise have read, Marketing Letters: A Journal of Research in Marketing.
One of the authors is Dr. Brian Wansink at Cornell where he is a professor of marketing and director of the university's Food and Brand Lab. I have been following his work and reviewing much of it here even before he published his best-selling book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think eight years ago.
The new research report is "Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking" by Carolina O. C. Werle of Grenoble Ecole de Management in France, Dr. Wansink, and Collin R. Payne of New Mexico State University. The full-text is free online here.
The word in the title, "framing," might need a little explanation. We can consider the frame of an activity as the context in which we think about it.
The frame we're talking about here is whether we think of what we are doing as being either fun or exercise. This research report summarizes three studies, two of them field experiments and one an observational field study of what people do after getting physical activity. It turns out they when they think, for example, that they were on a scenic walk instead of an exercise walk they compensated afterwards with less food.
A lot less.
In one experiment, 56 adults completed their walk and got lunch. Those who believed they had been on an exercise walk served themselves and ate 35 percent more chocolate pudding for dessert than those who believed they had been on a scenic walk.
In the other experiment, 46 adults were given mid-afternoon snacks after their walk. Those thinking that they taken an exercise walk ate 206 more calories of M&Ms, which was over twice as much 124 percent more than those who had been told they were on a scenic walk. "Viewing their walk as exercise led them to be less happy and more fatigued," says lead author Carolina Werle.
In the observational field study, the researchers offered relatively healthy and relatively unhealthy snacks to 231 runners after they finished a real race. The runners who said they had more fun during the race were more inclined to choose the relatively healthy snack than those who had said they had less fun.
Together, these studies point to one reason why people in exercise programs often find themselves gaining weight. Like the participants in the study, we generally reward ourselves by overeating after a workout. We think we deserve it for all that we put ourselves through.
The researchers found that if you think of your next workout as a "fun run" or as a well-deserved break, you'll eat less afterward. However, if you think of it as exercise, you'll later eat more dessert and snacks to reward yourself.
"Do whatever you can to make your workout fun," Dr. Wansink says. "Play music, watch a video, or simply be grateful that you're working out instead of working in the office."
In a short YouTube video he suggests that you call it a break or call it anything "but just don't call it exercise."
So what's the best exercise for you and me? It's the physical activity that we tell ourselves we enjoy the most.