Exercise: the struggle is real
Getting regular exercise is something that has been recommended for decades by doctors and health scientists. The benefits of exercise are profound and far-reaching, however, a regular and rigorous exercise routine is something which evades many Canadians. There are many factors at play in the avoidance or limiting of exercise, but the mental block surrounding getting started with physical activity is crucial.
New research out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) and published in the journal Neuropsychologia, has looked into the phenomenon of the mental block surrounding exercise. This block is essentially when a person can’t get started with physical activity because of dread, hesitation or simply lack of desire to exercise. This phenomenon has been described as the “exercise paradox.” Though we’ve been encouraged for decades to exercise more, statistics are showing that as a society we are exercising less.
The researchers in the study showed images on a screen to young adults depicting either physical activity or sedentary behaviour and recorded their brain activity. More mental effort (measured via electrodes) was observed in the brain when the participants of the study viewed images depicting physical activity, and less mental effort was associated with images depicting sedentary behaviour.
“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 researcher at UBC and senior author of the study. “The failure of public policies to counteract the pandemic of physical inactivity may be due to brain processes that have been developed and reinforced across evolution.
“We knew from previous studies that people are faster at avoiding sedentary behaviours and moving toward active behaviours. 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,” Boisgontier said.
“These results suggest that our brain is innately attracted to sedentary behaviours. Anything that happens automatically is difficult to inhibit, even if you want to, because you don't know that it is happening. But knowing that it is happening is an important first step,” Boisgontier said.
While exercise may be the perfect drug, benefiting almost every health condition you can name, too many Canadians aren’t taking it. The mental block surrounding physical activity is ingrained within us from millions of years of evolution, but we must find ways to overcome this barrier. By establishing healthy habits surrounding physical activity, we can overcome the automatic response to avoid exercise and conserve our energy.
If you have questions about the benefits of exercise or strategies for establishing an effective exercise routine, ask your naturopathic doctor.
New research says that the mental block people experience when trying to find motivation to exercise, is a real thing.