Why does our brain tell us to avoid exercise?
The exercise paradox describes the natural urge to avoid exercise despite our awarness of its benefits and to select the ‘easy option’ of sitting on the couch and watching tv.
With the lastest news reporting that a third of Irish kids are overweight or obese, this suggests that the health service will be unable to cope with the health crisis on the horizon. The exercise paradox explains the challenges borne out by those trying to change their exercise habits for the better.
A recent study in the journal Neuropsychologia examined why people choose to avoid exercise. In the study performed in the University of British Columbia’s brain behaviour lab, the participants were asked to control an onscreen avatar while being shown images representing either physical activty or inactivity.
Electrodes measured brain activity during this task.
The participants were required to move the avatar towards the images depicting physical activity and away from the images depicting inactivity. The data demonstrated that the participants expended significantly more focus and brain activity when attempting to move the avatar away from the physical inactivity images than when they were required to move towards them.
Therefore, our brains seem hardwired to avoid exercise. This poses some interesting questions regarding how this barrier to exercise compliance may be overcome.
What I find consistently with my patients is that those who have sedentary jobs find it very hard to motivate themseleves to do exercise. Part of the reason for this is that prolonged sitting creates a sense of lethargy and decreases the activation of the brain centres involved in motivation and feelings of wellness.
It is often best just to put on your running or walking gear and go outside without any firm commitment to how much exercise you are going to do on any particular day. Once you are outside then the internal debate is over and you are more likely to do more. The key is also to find something that you enjoy and actually can look forward to doing. This is the main determinant of consistency.
Read more at www.physioclinic.ie