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Distraction Exercise

Distraction & Exercise – The Pros & Cons

Is distraction beneficial or detrimental while exercising? Distraction is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “A thing that prevents someone from concentrating on something else.” Or a “diversion or recreation.” While exercising, I take distraction to mean taking our attention away from the exercise at hand. Distractions can by visual such as watching television or auditory such as listening to music. Does this take away from the benefit of exercising?

Here are some of the pros and cons to using distraction while exercising.


  1. Distraction to avoid pain - Though pain generally is your guide, there are times when the mere thought that something is going to be painful interferes with the goal. An example of an activity not involving exercise is fear of needles. Distracting a person could be the only way to successfully inject the person. In physical therapy, there are some patients who have an extremely low tolerance to pain, even discomfort, while performing very gentle range of motion. Distraction could come through conversation to take a person’s mind off the action of moving or mobilizing a painful body part.

  2. Distraction through watching television - Though I am not a fan of it, watching television while riding the stationary bike or on the treadmill outweighs not exercising at all. If this is your motivation to be active or that you’ve set a time to watch your favorite show while on the treadmill, then go for it. Again some movement is better than no movement at all!

  3. Distraction through conversation–Taking a hike with friends is a great way to get exercise in. When deep in conversation, the time and distance can go by faster!

  4. Distraction through music – Listening to music can help by “tuning out” conversation around you. Music can also help you keep a rhythm to pace yourself. Faster music can inspire you to get “pumped up” to exercise!


  1. Distraction increases your risk of injury – Paying attention to what you’re doing ensures a greater chance that you’re performing your exercise correctly and with good form. Incorrect movement or compensating using incorrect muscles increases your chance of injury, overuse and imbalance of muscles.

  2. Distraction decreases the effectiveness of exercising- Paying attention to an exercise so that correct muscles or joints are being targeted, sends a great number of signals to your brain. These signals not only help you to move better during your exercise, but also translate into your daily movements, whether standing, sitting or walking. Paying attention to what you are doing can also improve the rate at which you build muscle.

  3. Distraction increases time exercising – It is far more time efficient to tend to the “task” or exercise at hand rather than mindlessly doing an exercise because a show you watched while on the treadmill distracted you. You also waste less time trying to figure out what to do next.

Thus, the pros and cons to being distracted while exercising. There are gradients of distractions. Listening to music is a far better choice of distraction than watching television. The opposite of distraction is to be present and mindful while exercising. You can see how incorporating either distraction or mindfulness into exercising can be beneficial. The bottom line however is that anything that helps inspire you to exercise is beneficial and better than not exercising at all. So get out there!

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