Skip to Main Content

The Power of Positivity

Posted in: Education

Ed Kornoelje, DO

Sports Medicine | University of Michigan Health-West

“Be slow to criticize and quick to commend.”  John Wooden

If you have gotten to know me in person or through my articles you may recognize that I tend to lean towards the middle and not the extremes.  5K or marathon—sure.  High carb or low carb—how about middle carb.  Never eat cake, or snack all the time—how about cake for special occasions?  My point is most of the time life is best lived away from the extremes.  But when it comes to positivity, I’m all in.  Whether or not we are talking motivation, parenting, or coaching I am a firm believer that you will get more out of the situation if you approach it with a positive can-do attitude instead of focusing on the negative.  Honesty is important, we certainly need to learn from our mistakes, and we should not shy away from discipline where needed, but the continual focus on failure and blame often leads to negativity and losing (games, friends…).  And don’t get me started on coaches—in what other profession is yelling at trainees and colleagues an acceptable way to conduct business?  Not all coaches do this so before I get any “negative” feedback on my coaches comment I want to make that point (and some who are not coaches yell and scream as well).  But you know who you are, and folks like John Wooden don’t particularly care for that approach.  More on that topic in an upcoming article—let’s get back to being positive and see if that can help us run better as well (spoiler alert—it can).

In a study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, researchers looked at variations of a gene that affects exercise capacity (a more in-depth discussion of this study and topic can be found at Runner’s World in “Here’s More Proof That Positive Thinking Really Does Make Running Easier” by Danielle Zickl).  They tested a group of 116 participants on a maximal exertion treadmill test twice—the first test to set a baseline and the second test a week later to see if the genetic variations (of the CREB1 gene if you want to know) affected exercise capacity.  For the second test, however, each person was randomly assigned to a high genetic risk for poor exercise (cannot tolerate a lot of exercise) or a low risk group (can tolerate a lot of exercise).  The participants repeated the same treadmill test they had performed the week before this time “knowing” their genetic capacity for endurance, allowing both the “actual effect of people’s actual genetic risk on exercise capacity” and “the effect of people’s perceived genetic risk alone” to be ascertained. 

So what happened?  Those who thought they had a variant of the gene linked to poor exercise capacity removed C02 less efficiently from their blood, had a decreased lung capacity, and stopped running 22 seconds sooner.  Those who though they had the high-endurance form of CREB1 ran 47 seconds longer than the previous test, and 67 seconds longer before noting they felt hot compared to their previous test.  Those with the actual CREB1 variant associated with poor performance did tend to perform worse than those without the variant, but the perceived effects were in some cases greater than the actual effects of the gene—mind over genes?

Lead study author Brad Turnwald, Ph. D.(c): “Because our psychological processes—including mindsets, expectations, and beliefs—have cross-talk with our physiological body systems, this new mindset can fundamentally transform our experience and how our bodies function in situations…”.  Does this mean you can just “think your way fast” or train for a marathon simply by thinking positive thoughts (hmm, maybe a future book title)—no!  Does this mean that looking for the good in any training run or workout may help your body make some gains in endurance and strength—yes!  And even help you shave some seconds (or minutes) off your race time—perhaps!  Positive thinking certainly won’t hurt—maybe that’s a mantra we all should use in more situations than just running!  Use this as you train for and run one of the SHE RUNS races!

Be Active!