Science Says Your Memories Of Gym Class Might Explain Why You Hate To Work Out Now
There are two types of people in this world: the ones who took gym class way too seriously, and the ones who absolutely dreaded the thought of even showing up. If you resonate with the latter (aka your best memory of gym class is the one blessed day you mustered up the courage to be a rebel and cut PE), those memories could still be lingering in your subconscious and affecting your current feelings toward exercise in general. A new study suggests that a lack of workout motivation in your adult life might just stem from those cringeworthy memories of gym class, and honestly, it makes so much sense.
For the study, which has been published in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers from Iowa State University created a detailed, online questionnaire "that asked people to ruminate on and rate their memories of gym class and how they felt about exercise now," The New York Times reports, as well as what their present-day workout habits (or perhaps lack thereof) look like. The questionnaire also asked people to, in their own words, talk about their best or worst memory of gym class, in however much detail they felt comfortable sharing. Anyone else getting painful flashbacks already?
According to The New York Times, the researchers posted the questionnaire to "a website devoted to academic studies," and basically, anyone who came across the survey on their own was invited to complete it. In total, the researchers gathered over a thousand responses from men and women between 18 and 45 years old. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the participants had vivid, and sometimes even emotional memories of their time in gym class — and honestly, same. Running the mile was the absolute worst, and don't even get me started on the volleyball unit.
But in all seriousness, the study revealed that there's definitely a connection between gym class memories and a person's present-day attitude toward fitness, and unfortunately, it's mostly a negative connection. According to the research, people who said they had unpleasant memories of gym class were more likely to dislike exercise as adults, and on the flip side, people who enjoyed PE during their childhood said they mostly enjoy exercise now that they're adults.
And as for the best and worst memories of gym class, the study participants expressed that it wasn't just the physical activity alone that they didn't like; 14 percent of respondents said they felt awkward undressing in the locker room, and 34 percent said gym class, as a whole, was just plain embarrassing for them (#relatable). For those who had more positive memories, 56 percent said they genuinely enjoyed the activities in PE class, 37 percent said they experienced "feelings of physical competence" that left them with better memories of the class, and 7 percent said they enjoyed "not having to take PE class any longer or skipping the class" (again, #relatable).
So when it comes down to it, whether you liked PE or not as a kid, the results of this study show that how you feel about exercise at your core is inevitably going to affect, to some degree, your motivation and consistency in staying active.
And even though pretty much all of us can relate to less-than-ideal gym class memories, it's important to not let those experiences define your present identity or the way you live your life now. There are ways that you can put those awkward PE days far behind you and get more comfortable with working out, so that you can feel your best and find joy in movement.
For example, moving through a mind-clearing yoga flow in the comfort of your home might help you connect to your body in amazing ways. Or maybe creating a playlist of upbeat, motivating songs is what gets you to throw on your favorite sports bra and go for an endorphin-infused jog. Experiment with different ways of moving your body, because truly, the sky's the limit when it comes to wellness.
Take it from me, a former-gym-class-hater-turned-fitness-enthusiast: The feeling you get from working out in ways you love totally trumps the trauma of the sit-and-reach test, every single time.