Objective: (1) To examine the effects of attentional distraction on running time in an incremental treadmill test in obese youngsters; (2) to investigate whether distraction works at the same extent at the beginning and at the end of residential treatment; and (3) to explore the underlying mechanisms of the possible distraction effects.
Methods: Thirty severely obese youngsters (10 boys, 20 girls, age range 9-17) who were following a 10 month residential treatment, performed a treadmill test until exhaustion in four different sessions using a within subjects design. The two sessions at the beginning of the treatment and the two sessions at the end the treatment were counterbalanced, one with attentional distraction (music) and one without distraction.
Results: Obese youngsters ran significantly longer during distraction. This distraction effect seemed to be larger at the beginning compared to at the end of obesity treatment. The absence of differences between the condition with music and the condition without music on perceived bodily symptoms is in line with the idea that it took longer to perceive sufficient bodily sensations to decide to stop the treadmill test in the distraction condition. This interpretation is further corroborated by the physiological data indicating a superior peak performance in the condition with distraction.
Conclusions: Attentional distraction has a positive effect on perseverance in obese youngsters. Further research has to show the usefulness of attentional distraction as a technique to increase exercise adoption and adherence in obesity treatment.