Researchers found that watching people on TV shows exercise under extreme conditions may actually turn people off to exercise, rather than motivate them.
Sometimes we all need a little motivation to get off the couch and get out the door to exercise. Motivation can come in many ways—being inspired by our favourite athletes, desiring to improve our health through exercise, or by watching TV shows such as The Biggest Loser where participants share a common goal of losing weight and getting fit.
But a recent study by the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta found that instead of motivating people to exercise, shows such as The Biggest Loser may be turning people off to exercise.
Not what exercise is about
“People The Biggest Loser> are screaming and crying and throwing up, and if you're not a regular exerciser you might think this is what exercise is—that it's this horrible experience where you have to push yourself to the extremes and the limits, which is completely wrong,” says lead study author Tanya Berry.
University students were shown a seven minute clip from the show’s ninth season, followed by a computer test that measured their attitudes about exercise without giving them time to think about the questions, and a handwritten questionnaire that allowed more time for thought. (A control group watched American Idol.)
Participants from both viewing groups were asked to write down the first five thoughts that came into their heads. Viewers of The Biggest Loser had worse attitudes toward exercise than the American Idol viewers. The results proved to be consistent across all participants’ activity levels and weight.
Harmful to public exercise campaigns
These research results run counter to other researchers’ findings that extreme exercise shows are inspirational and provide the motivation to exercise. In fact, the way shows like The Biggest Loser portray exercise may be counterproductive to public health exercise campaigns.
Researchers are now working on a follow-up study on the effect of episodes of The Biggest Loser that show participants who have lost weight, become physically fit, and enjoy exercise. Stay tuned for the results in 2013.
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