ICYMI, April is Stress Awareness Month—and, considering Americans are stressed AF, it's an awareness month that is definitely needed. In an effort to reduce stress, Blink Fitness (a gym chain in the greater New York City area) announced that they're basically banning cable news from their gym TVs every Monday this month in an effort to keep the gym vibe stress-free.
The initiative, called "Tune Out While You Work Out," is supposed to help members minimize stress and focus on themselves and crushing their workout while they're in the gym. They're not shutting the TVs off, mind you—just switching to mood-lifting and news-free content and encouraging gym-goers to take a break from scrolling on social media in order to totally tune in to the workout at hand. Die-hard news fans might not be too happy about the switch. But according to the American Psychological Association, 76 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans list "the future of our nation" as a significant source of stress, so turning off the news to minimize stress isn't such a bad idea.
"I would venture to guess that if a person watched something they strongly disliked, that would then affect their overall enjoyment during exercise," says Brian Rider, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at Hope College and the author of a study on the link between TV and exercise enjoyment, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.
But TV, in general, can be a good thing. When exercisers watched TV in Rider's study, they reported significantly greater enjoyment compared to those who exercised without watching TV—whether it was a program they chose or a neutral program. In his study, Rider had exercisers walk on a treadmill at an easy to moderate pace while watching 1) nothing, 2) a neutral show about nature, or 3) a sitcom or other show of their choice. They reported enjoying the workout much more whether they tuned into their fave Netflix comedy or just watched color-changing frogs on The Animal Planet.
However, another study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine—which had exercisers watch a 10-minute clip of Two and a Half Men while briskly walking on the treadmill—found that people who didn't enjoy the show didn't get the same mood boost post-exercise as those who did enjoy the show or who had a neutral opinion about it. In fact, for those who aren't fans of Two and a Half Men, they had the same lack of mood change as the control group who didn't exercise at all. (And considering the post-exercise high is basically a happiness drug, you definitely don't want to miss out on that.)
The main takeaway: If the TV is on, you're going to be happier about spending time on the treadmill, as long as it's a show you like or a show you don't mind watching. And if you were planning to watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead anyway, why not do it while being active instead of vegging on the couch? (BTW, you could burn more than 300 calories briskly walking on a treadmill during just one of those episodes, according to Netflix.) But if you can only find shows that aggravate you? Switching it off and turning on an energy-boosting playlist might be your best bet.
It's important to note that both of these studies only tested walking on the treadmill. "Research suggests that as the intensity increases, the less likely a distraction (such as TV or music) is going to impact your enjoyment of exercise," says Rider. Translation: You're getting so in-the-zone from the workout itself, it doesn't matter what's going on around you. Just think about when you zone out during that extra-hard climb during spin class. (Although, we do know that blasting music does increase the likelihood that you'll enjoy a HIIT workout.)
Having trouble picking a show? You can always turn to a health-related reality show like The Biggest Loser or NBC's Strong for some extra motivation. Though there's no concrete evidence (yet) to support it, "I do believe there is a chance that watching a motivating program or one that focuses on sport/fitness could have an effect on a person's enjoyment/motivation/performance during exercise," says Rider. Because if Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives can stimulate a serious appetite, Khloé Kardashian's Revenge Body will only bump up your urge to go hard during your workout, right?