Sept. 22, 2000 -- Despite recent reports to the contrary, sniffing peppermint while exercising will not increase a person's vim and vigor. Peppermint researcher Bryan Raudenbush, PhD, tells WebMD that although the oil from the aromatic plant may make exercise more pleasurable -- encouraging you to exercise longer -- there is no known component that will help trim waists or add muscle. "The effect is more psychological than physiological," he says.
Raudenbush, a professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, says he read that peppermint had been shown in studies to increase a person's attention level while performing tasks. He wondered if it would also improve their exercise regiments.
Raudenbush tested 20 men and 20 women exercising on treadmills while having four different odors mixed with oxygen sent to their noses. Besides peppermint, the athletes sniffed jasmine, pure air, and dimethyl sulfide -- an unpleasant fragrance described as mimicking old sweat socks.
Raudenbush says he also performed other studies focusing on peppermint, with people running around tracks, shooting baskets, squeezing handgrips, and doing pushups. "We found that the more performance-related tasks, like running and pushups, were increased with peppermint, but the skill-related tasks, like shooting baskets, were not."
He says overall, the athletes said they were in a better mood afterwards and they didn't think they had to perform as hard. "They felt their performance was better; they felt less fatigued and more vigorous and in a better mood. If you're in a better mood, you're more apt to push yourself a little bit further and it doesn't seem as bad."
Raudenbush says he looked at physical measures such as changes in blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and heart rate, but there was no difference between the peppermint and the other substances and their effects on those in the study, which he says is scheduled to appear in an upcoming edition of the International Sports Journal.
Aware of Raudenbush's research, Daniel Kurtz, PhD, tried his own peppermint experiment. He wanted to investigate whether people who weren't exercising enough would benefit from sniffing peppermint. Like Raudenbush's study, Kurtz's research was funded by the Olfactory Research Fund, an association of fragrance manufacturers.