dressing for the gym

Why Dressing for the Gym Can Lead to Fitness Success

A scientific argument for making workout clothes your everyday attire.

By Kellee Katagi

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You’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat.” But the phrase “you are what you wear” may be just as apt. Scientists have a fancy term for it: enclothed cognition which, in layman’s terms, means your clothing influences how you act.

Researchers from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management coined this term after finding that people who dressed in white lab coats performed better in cognition tests than those who didn’t (unless, interestingly, they were told they were “artists’ coats,” in which case there was no improvement). Their theory is that clothing is symbolic—if you look the part, you’ll act the part.

Long before I came across this study, I found this concept to be true in my own life, especially as it applies to exercise. Sweats, performance T-shirts and the like are my go-to attire, unless the social or work situation dictates otherwise. (When I wear jeans, my kids often ask: “Mom, why are you so dressed up?”)

It’s partly for comfort’s sake. But the main reason is that I’ve found I’m much more likely to be active if I’m dressed for activity. I’ll take the stairs instead of the elevator. I’ll run around with my kids. I’ll do a few squats while unloading the dishwasher or sit-ups while watching TV.

And, science also shows, these little movements can make a big difference. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that even little actions—such as walking to a coworkers’ desk versus phoning them, going upstairs to tell your kid dinner is ready instead of texting them, or even fidgeting or pacing while you’re talking on the phone—can add up to better cardiorespiratory fitness and significant calorie expenditure over the course of a day.

So there it is: research-backed permission to ditch the fancy, restrictive clothing and dress like you’re ready to move. Odds are, you’ll do just that—and be all the fitter for it.

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