New research by Grenoble Ecole de Management professor, Carolina Werle, Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Collin Payne, from New Mexico State University, suggests that individuals exercising can avoid compensating their efforts with food if the physical activity itself is fun.
Werle, Carolina O.C., Brian Wansink et Collin R. Payne (2014), Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking,Marketing Letters, 1-12. DOI : 10.1007/s11002-014-9301-6
"Studies have shown that individuals compensate their effort during exercise by increasing their food intake afterwards. We were trying to find ways to avoid this compensation" explains, Carolina Werle, Professor of Marketing at Grenoble Ecole de Management, the international business school located in the heart of the French Alps.
The researchers wanted to find out if the perception of the physical activity considered as fun or as exercise could influence the food intake of the participants, after their workout session. Through three studies, the results show that the fact of having fun during the workout session avoids compensating the effort though food consumption.
Having fun avoids compensation
One of the experiments consisted of asking two groups of participants to carry out a mile-long walk on the University of Cornell campus (USA). The first group was to walk whilst having fun (testing a new MP3 player) whilst the other group was just to walk, focusing on the physical effort (exercise) solely.
Both groups were then invited for lunch with different food and drink options, healthy and unhealthy. The group which only focused on the physical effort of the walk helped itself 42% more of chocolate pudding and Coca-Cola than the first group which had concentrated on having fun with the MP3 player. The fact of having fun during the physical activity thus avoided the compensating phenomenon described above.
A second study confirmed the first results. The participants had to walk a mile with the instruction of either doing physical exercise ("exercise" condition) or having a leisurely walk ("fun" condition). At the end of the walk, participants could help themselves with M&Ms as a thank you for participating in the study. Those who concentrated on physical exercise helped themselves twice as much as those who did a "fun" walk.
Finally, the researchers wanted to find out whether within a real race contest, results would be the same as in a controlled experiment. At the end of a relay race during which participants ran 5 to 10 km, 231 runners accepted to fill in a survey on their perception of the race. As a thank you for participating in the survey, they were given a choice between a cereal bar, and a less healthy chocolate one. Those who had the most fun during the race, predominantly chose the cereal bar, whilst the other were tempted by the chocolate one.
"Our results show that fun during physical exercise induces more healthy food choices. The mechanism explaining these effects in our first study was the positive mood induced by the fun framing of the physical activity. As participants had more fun during the physical activity, they were also in a more positive mood, and thus they needed to consume less hedonic foods afterwards" concludes Carolina Werle.