How hard should people exercise?
Most people are aware that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically. Experts have recommended that people exercise at certain intensity levels to receive the most benefit from doing it. What if people are allowed to choose the intensity level of their exercise by themselves? Researchers at the University of Wales recently reported the results from a study aimed at finding an answer to this question.
What was the research about?
Twenty-six physically fit undergraduate students participated in the study. Some were told to exercise at a specified intensity level that was believed to be highly effective. The rest were told to exercise only as hard as they wanted to. All the participants exercised for a period of 20 minutes, indicated their levels of well-being, distress, interest, fatigue, and intensity every 5 minutes.
Although participants who chose their own intensity level and those who did not tended to report the same levels of well-being, distress, and fatigue, participants who chose their own intensity level actually exercised harder and were more interested in doing it. Thus, people seem to benefit the most mentally and physically when they exercise at their preferred level of intensity, at least among those who are physically fit.
Why should it matter to me?
People who have trouble motivating themselves to exercise may become more interested in doing it and actually exercise harder if they let themselves exercise only as hard as they want to instead of worrying about trying to exercise at some specified level of intensity.
Source: Parfitt, G., Rose, E. A., Markland, D. (2000). The Effect of prescribed and preferred intensity exercise on psychological affect and the influence of baseline measures of affect. Journal of Health Psychology, 5, 231-240.