The Mind Can Fool the Body

SAN DIEGO, CA -- Can the placebo effect make a person run faster? Yes, it can. Runners who drank what they thought was “super-oxygenated” water ran faster than those who drank what they were told was bottled water, according to a study by American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The ACE-commissioned study was led by Jennifer Otto, John P. Porcari, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. The research team tested thirty-two healthy volunteers that represented both competitive and recreational runners who ran a minimum of 7.3 miles per week.

Study participants were told that they were involved in a study to measure the effects of super-oxygenated water (SOW) on exercise performance. Each volunteer watched a short video detailing the purported beneficial effects of SOW and how their performance might be enhanced by drinking SOW before a race.

After preliminary tests to determine their fitness levels, each subject ran three separate non-paced 5-km time trials. The runs involved half the subjects drinking 16 ounces of bottled water or 16 ounces of what they thought was SOW (but was, in fact, tap water). During each trial, heart rate and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were measured, while blood lactate concentration and running performance time were measured.

The results show that during the placebo trial, on average subjects ran 83 seconds faster, when they thought they were drinking SOW with 84 percent or 27 of 32 subjects running faster during the placebo trial. Heart rate, RPE and blood lactate levels were virtually the same between the two conditions.

“Over the years, placebo studies have shown that subjects who believe that they are receiving beneficial treatment often experience a variety of positive outcomes,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, ACE chief exercise physiologist. “There clearly is a strong connection between the mind and body as it relates to physical performance.”

In 2001, ACE sponsored a study to test the claims made by manufacturers of super-oxygenated waters. The study, conducted by the Human Performance Research Lab at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, revealed that drinking super-oxygenated water had no measurable effect on heart rate, blood pressure or blood lactate values during sub-maximal and maximal exercise tests. At the time, researchers concluded that any potential benefits of super-oxygenated water would undoubtedly be attributed to the placebo effect.

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