If you are exercising, magazines with ultra-fit models won't help
That’s according to research by Ann Garvin, an associate professor at UW-Whitewater who has been studying the psychological effects of exercise for nearly 20 years.
“One of the things we know about exercise is in almost all cases people feel better, their mood improves, anxiety and depression go down,” Garvin said.
But if you’re running on the treadmill or riding an exercise bicycle, looking at a fitness magazine with ultra-fit models likely won’t give you those psychological benefits, according to Garvin’s research.
Garvin, two of her colleagues and an undergraduate student conducted the research last year with UW-Whitewater male and female students, and this year Garvin is focusing on just women.
The students worked out for 30 minutes on an exercise bicycle at their own intensity. Participants randomly were assigned to a fitness magazine with hyper-fit images or a control magazine such as National Geographic. Anxiety and mood states were measured before exercise and within 3 minutes after the exercise.
The research found that the participants assigned to view the fitness magazines had reductions in all kinds of moods, Garvin said. The typical psychological benefits experienced after exercise were not only blunted but anxiety was increased significantly with exposure to fitness magazine images.
So what should you do?
Garvin recommends health clubs don’t display image-related magazines.
She isn’t kidding when she says National Geographic might be the way to go.
“Choose magazines that are less fitness oriented, less image oriented,” she said.
“I would encourage people to bring novels—no images—although that’s particularly hard with televisions, magazines and people all over in health clubs.”
But don’t bring your homework or a calendar and pencil to create a to-do list, either, she said.
Past research she’s conducted shows similar results: Doing homework while exercising wipes out the psychological benefits, she said.
Good alternatives are things that fit your interests—travel, houses, pets.
“Just try to find something that is interesting and makes you feel good and do that,” Garvin said.