Exercising for Pleasure

Contributed by Dr. Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS


“Runner’s high,” “the pump”—there are very few things as distinctly satisfying as pushing your body to its limits. How exercising makes you feel, the “affective response,” is something that the science of exercise physiology is just beginning to understand. Recent research suggests that how you remember those acute feelings may be one of the most important factors in whether or not you stick to your exercise program and ultimately how successful you are in reaching your fitness goals.


A study recently published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Physiology examined the relationship between exercise intensity and pleasure, and how it affected novice exerciser’s likelihood to stick to the regimen. In the study, 46 participants who considered themselves new to structured exercise were asked to complete a 15-minute cycling workout; half starting slowly and gradually increasing the pace, while the other group was asked to start out at a near sprint and progressively decelerate. Both groups completed approximately the same amount of total work. What researchers found was that the latter group, who was asked to start out at breakneck speed and then gradually slow, recorded higher ratings of “remembered pleasure” up to a week later. The participants in this second group also predicted that their pleasure from future workouts would be significantly higher, and showed increased motivation to continue with the exercise program.


This interesting finding doesn’t mean that we should all approach our workouts at maximum intensity and then leisurely finish, but that our motivation to exercise has some distinct behavioral and memory components. One hypothesis is that people greatly anticipate the completion of a workout, especially when doing something new, and starting out at full tilt, in a physically uncomfortable state, may further amplify this. Finishing at a comfortable pace, almost a cool-down, may leave a better long-term impression on those not used to the specific type of exertion. Furthermore, there is evidence that participants also experience a similar effect when they have a plan and have clear directions about their workout.


There are many different approaches to a successful exercise program. The key is to know yourself and prioritize the enjoyment of the activity; and understand what type of programming leaves you most satisfied so that you are motivated to continue. For best results, exercise with a purpose and a vision of the finish line.




doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary and further research is needed to gain greater understanding of the findings. Some articles offer multiple views on general health topics and are not the official position of doTERRA. Consult your healthcare provider before making changes to diet or exercise.

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