The mind of the dancer: Does mind-set influence the benefit of training?

In a recent post in mid-July I had mentioned the evidence from brain imaging studies showing that merely imagining an action activates the brain cells that are engaged when performing that action. It follows that merely imaging good running style might establish and strengthen the patterns of brain activity that are required to achieve good running form.

This raises an even more speculative question. What influence does mind-set have on non-voluntary actions such as the activity of the heart and metabolic processes. I do not know of any evidence that imagination alone will make you fit, but maybe the way we think about our training can increase the benefits of training. Alia Crum and Helen Langer of Harvard University carried out a study of the effect of merely informing hotel cleaning staff that their daily cleaning work is good exercise. Four weeks later, their blood pressure and body fat had decreased, even though they did not increase the amount of cleaning they performed. In contrast a comparison group who carried on cleaning as usual without being told that cleaning is good exercise, did not show improvements in fitness. (Crum and Langer, ‘Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect’, Psychological Science, 18:165-171;2007). Maybe the practical conclusion is that developing a training plan that makes sense to you increases the benefit of that training compared with performing the same training without knowing why.

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