Learning to love the sweat – the secret to keeping active

  • Date

    Mon 4 Apr 22

Two women jogging through green space

Whilst hybrid working has many advantages as we learn to live with COVID, it could be affecting our enthusiasm to doing exercise, according to new research.

A study published by the University of Essex, has found unless we learn to love the experience of physical activity – both good and bad – we are less likely to want to do it.

Problem is, with more of us spending time working from home and not having to commute than pre-COVID, we are spending less time being active, which makes the bodily sensations triggered by physical activity more alien to many of us.

“It is well established that the difference between people who are physically active compared to those who aren’t is linked to getting a sense of enjoyment from it,” explained lead author Dr John Day, from Essex’s School of Health and Social Care. “Fundamental to this is how people interpret the conflicting sensations produced and encountered by our bodies while we are active, such as sweating, burning muscles and the increased pounding of the heart.”

However, as more people now spend significant amounts of time sat in front of screens working from home compared to pre-COVID, bodily sensations linked to physical activity are rarely part of everyday life for many people and are more of an “out of the ordinary experience”.

Published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport journal, the research found that physical activity experiences are more complex and ambiguous than simply a pain-pleasure experience and understanding this complexity in greater detail through further research may hold the key for understanding how people learn to enjoy physical activity. 

“For those who are regularly active, it is about getting used to the unfamiliar bodily sensations triggered by physical activity which plays an important role in enjoying physical activity,” added Dr Day. “Whereas, for other people are more inconsistent in how often they do physical activity, these unfamiliar sensations were interpreted as being uncomfortable and unsettling – which ultimately makes them less inclined to do it more often.”

The good news, according to the research which studied the lives of 30 people with various levels of physical activity, is that enjoying the bodily sensations of physical activity is something that can be learnt, and Dr Day said the next stage of the research would be a study of people who have gone through the transition from hating to enjoying physical activity to get a better understanding of how this happens.