It’s time for you to head to the gym and finally get in that workout you promised you’d do today, but you find yourself lying on the couch watching TV. You tell yourself, “Just one more episode,” or “Just half an hour more and I’ll go,” but that time never seems to come. As the next episode gives way to the one after that, another workout session planned with the best intentions goes to waste.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry—you’re not the only person to feel that way. It’s part of what scientists term the ‘exercise paradox’, which is the baffling phenomenon of people pledging to become more fit but instead find themselves to be less active than before. Its effects are seen worldwide—there has never been a greater push towards better fitness levels in society than right now, but a recent report by the WHO claims that over a billion people (more than a quarter of the world’s population) aren’t getting enough exercise.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia and University of Geneva sought to get to the bottom of this, and their research has revealed that the problem lies in our heads!
“Conserving energy has been essential for humans’ survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators,” said Matthieu Boisgontier, a postdoctoral researcher in UBC’s brain behaviour lab at the department of physical therapy and senior author of the study in a university press release. His theory is that the human brain is hardwired to favour laziness and conserve energy at all times which is why some of the most elaborate exercise regimens fall by the wayside.
About The Study
Published in the journal Neuropsychologia, the study involved 29 young adults who wanted to improve the level of exercise in their lives taking part in a computerised test. They were told to move a human figure on the screen either towards images depicting physical activity or away from images of sedentary activities that would randomly appear, and then again vice versa. During the exercise, the participants were hooked up to an electroencephalograph to monitor their brain activity.
The researchers found that the participants tended to move towards the active images and away from the sedentary ones faster than their counterparts. They took 32 milliseconds less to move away from the sedentary image, which the scientists termed as a significant time gap in this kind of assignment. This might make for encouraging reading as it goes against the exercise paradox, but the researchers explained the reasons for their findings as well.
Why This Happens
The reason for the participants shunning the sedentary images faster is two-fold, explain the researchers. Firstly, it was in accordance with the instructions they were given. Secondly, it was in accordance with their desire to improve their fitness levels, as mentioned previously. The combination of the two led them to ignore the body’s natural instinct of gravitation towards the sedentary image and conserving energy.
However, this decision required a lot of brain power, noted the scientists. This means that while the brain is able to move away from sedentary behaviour, it has to use much more resources to ignore its basic instinct of conserving energy. This shows that the brain is innately attracted to more sedentary behaviours as opposed to active ones.
So if you while away your next gym session lying on the couch, feel free to blame it on the brain!