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When it Feels Like Forever--Perceived Time During Exercise

Mar 02 2018

Perceived Time

Time keeps ticking on . . .  but are we actually all that accurate when it comes to our “internal clock?”  Whether sitting in class, on an incredibly long plane ride, or on a long run, we always think, “shouldn’t this be over by now?”  Generally, when we’re not particularly enjoying a situation, time seems to move more slowly.  But what about exercise?  (Yes, exercise can be enjoyable!)  However, exercise, and especially more difficult exercise, seems to alter our perception of time.

A.M. Edwards and A. McCormick from the University of St. Mark & St. John in Plymouth, UK and James Cook University, Sport & Exercise Science in Cairns, Australia published what is probably the first research on this topic of exercise-altered time perception.  Participants spent twenty minutes on a rowing machine at three different levels of exertion three separate times.  They stated their perception of time throughout the twenty minutes.  At 15 minutes and again at 20 minutes, their perceived time was more than the actual amount of elapsed time.  (In other words, they thought more time had passed than actually had.)  Additionally, as the level of exertion during exercise increased, perceived time became even longer than actual elapsed time.

The authors discussed how the data could differ if the participants were professional athletes who were accustomed to exercising and could perhaps become accustomed to correcting their perceived time.  The discussion also mentioned how perceived time could pass more quickly due to a higher amount of neural processing occurring at levels of more exertion.  This greater amount of processing than normal could lead to the perception of more time passing.

As time passes (get the pun?!), I’m sure we’ll learn more about why and how our perceived time differs from actual time—and how athletes can work with these factors for optimal performance.  Until, then, we’ll still have runs, conditioning, and those stroking classes that make your legs burn and feel like they last forever.  (Luckily, they don’t!)  So, just “keep calm and carry on!”