Awhile back I wrote “Exercise -You Need to Like It” stating that you would get much more benefit from your workout if you liked doing it. I quoted from the course guidebook that accompanies the Course on Stress from The Great Courses that I was taking at the time.
I based the item on the following statement, “Last, you have got to like doing it. If a personal trainer is forcing you to exercise, you do not get anywhere near as much of the health benefits.”
Upon further reflection, I thought that while strong and provocative, the statement could use some further support or documentation. What exactly would be taking place in your mind and body that would cause you to get more benefit from the workout?
I emailed The Great Courses and they passed on my question to the teacher, Professor Robert M. Sapolsky. Dr. Sapolsky holds the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professorship of Biological Sciences at Stanford University, where he is also Professor of Biology, Neurology, and Neurosurgery in Stanford’s School of Medicine. He is also a research associate at the Institute of Primate Research, operated by the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.
The recipient of a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, Professor Sapolsky has won numerous awards for his dynamic teaching skills, including the 2009 Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching—Stanford University’s highest teaching honor.
Professor Sapolsky sent me the following in response: “You’ve caught me in a little bit of teaching license, in that this has never been explicitly shown in humans. This extrapolation is based on animal studies. Here’s how to distinguish between a rat wanting to run versus being forced — let a rat voluntarily run in a running wheel versus force it to run (the running wheel is contained, with the rat unable to get out, and every time the voluntary runner runs, the wheel of the involuntary rat turns as well, forcing the rat to run; this provides the nice control that the two do the same exact running). And the stress physiology, brain chemistry, stress-related disease risk differs dramatically.”
From these facts I guess we can conclude that the principle works in rats, so there is a possibility (likelihood?) that it will yield the same results in humans.
I would just like to add that in my 52 weeks of losing 50 pounds, I was totally focused on shedding weight and because I experienced benefits immediately, I began to truly enjoy my exercise sessions. I felt that I was literally burning off the pounds and I could see it happening in my mind and shortly afterwards in my body. So, I personally believe that you will benefit more from exercise that you enjoy. I have only my own anecdotal experience to support it.