Why it can be difficult to exercise regularly
There is plenty of research that confirms the many benefits of physical activity for your health and wellbeing. Yet many people struggle to exercise regularly. According to a new study from the University of British Columbia, the reason for this gap between knowing and doing is that you may be hardwired for laziness.
This study shows that the faster avoidance of physical inactivity increases the use of brain resources, suggesting that our brain is innately attracted to sedentary behaviours.
For years society has encouraged people to be physically active, yet statistics show that people are becoming less active. The researchers coined the term “exercise paradox” to describe this notion. To understand this paradox, the researchers recruited 29 young adults who were physically active or physically inactive but with the intention of becoming physically active. The participants were asked to sit in front of the computer and were given control of an on-screen avatar. Small images were flashed one at a time, depicting either physical activity or physical inactivity. The participants had to move the avatar as quickly as possible towards the pictures of physical activity and away from the pictures of physical inactivity — and then vice versa. Meanwhile, electrodes recorded what was happening in their brains.
The researchers found that the participants were generally faster at moving towards active pictures and away from lazy pictures. However, brain-activity readouts called electroencephalograms showed that moving away from lazy pictures required their brains to work harder. Previous studies have shown that people are faster at avoiding sedentary behaviours and moving towards active behaviours. Now this study shows that the faster avoidance of physical inactivity increases the use of brain resources, suggesting that our brain is innately attracted to sedentary behaviours.
The automatic processes that take place in the brain explain why people are less active, despite knowledge of the risks associated with physical inactivity. So if you struggle to exercise regularly and be physically active, it is all happening inside your brain.
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