Are We Programmed to Avoid Working Out?

A new study shows that our brains may naturally resist physical activity.

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The 7-Minute Jumpstart Workout (3:12)

A team of researchers examined the “exercise paradox” and what role our brains play in maintaining it. Various studies have proven that exercise improves health, but the National Health Statistics Reports recorded that 77 percent of Americans are still not meeting even this weekly exercise requirement. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that we only need 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week to improve health, which is very doable. This raises the question of why a majority of people stubbornly avoid exercise. Matthieu Boisgontier, a postdoctoral researcher at the British Columbia’s Brain Behaviour Lab, conducted a study to help answer this question.

Boisgontier’s study involved 29 young people controlling an onscreen avatar while electrodes registered their brain activity when they saw images of either physical activity or physical inactivity. The participants were required to move their avatars as quickly as they could toward the physical activity-related images and away from the inactivity-related images in one test, and the opposite way around in another. The researchers found that the participants moved their avatars more quickly toward the physical activity images and away from the physical inactivity than the other way around. Dr. Boisgontier states, “The exciting novelty of our study is that it shows this faster avoidance of physical inactivity comes at a cost – and that is an increased involvement of brain resources. These results suggest that our brains are innately attracted to sedentary behaviors.” He notes that human instincts are to conserve energy and that our natural inclination is to be inactive. 

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