26 Nov Are Our Brains Making Us Sit Too Much?
A recent study in the journal Neuropsycologia finds that our brains tend to be wired towards being lazy. People know that they should exercise and even may plan to work out, but electrical signals in the brain may be motivating them to be sedentary. Relatively few people exercise regularly, even though most know that it is important for our health. Earlier research shows that many people sincerely wish to be active, but few people actually follow through.
Scientists wondered if there was something going on in the brain that lessened the motivation to exercise, so they recruited 29 healthy and fairly sedentary young men and women who said they wished to be more active. Each volunteer was fit with a helmet that had multiple electrodes that read and recorded the brain’s electrical activity.
Each person was given a computer test where they had an avatar they controlled by pushing a keyboard key, and they were instructed to move their avatar as fast as they could toward either the active images and away from the sedentary ones, and then vice versa.
If people respond more quickly to one kind of image, moving their avatars to it faster than they move them away from other types of images, then it is thought that they are drawn to that subject. The people in this study were almost uniformly quicker to move toward the active images than the sedentary ones–they all consciously preferred the figures that were in motion.
But at an unconscious level, their brains did not seem to agree. The electrical tests of brain activity showed each person had to use much more brain resources to move toward physically active images than toward sedentary ones. Brain activity there was much slighter when people moved toward couches and hammocks, suggesting that our brains are naturally attracted to being sedentary.
The results were explained in that our ancestors needed to conserve energy, so they had fewer calories to replace when food was not easily available—it was a survival strategy.
Of course, this study was small and looked only at electrical activity in the brain, but the authors feel that it would be helpful for some people who are reluctant to exercise to know that they are not alone. It is also very important to note that we can consciously choose to move, despite what our brains might think.