We can all agree we’re a more sedentary society today than in the past. Often, this has been blamed on things like addictive technology that make our lives both easier and lazier, on a change in hobbies and pastimes away from physical ones to more sedentary, often computer-based ones, or on an over reliance on medication to solve our ailments.
But a new Canadian study from the University of British Columbia, led by Matthieu Boisgontier, suggests it might be our brains—not technology—that are holding us back and keeping us sedentary.
The study concludes that just thinking about replacing sedentary behaviour for physical exertion taxes brains. The full study, published in Neuropsychologia can be found here.
The impetus behind the study was to figure out why—in a time when we know more about the health benefits of exercise than ever before—we’re still becoming more sedentary, overweight and ultimately unhealthy, as a society. According the Boisgontier and his team of researchers, it’s our brains that are preventing us from choosing healthier behavior.
To find these results, participants in the study were asked to look at computer screens of images that showed either physical activity or inactivity. They were then asked to move their avatars toward the activities that showed physical activity and away from the more sedentary images, such as people lounging around on a hammock. Their brain activity was monitored throughout the experiment.
Just moving their avatars away from inactivity taxed and stressed their brains out. In other words, it takes our brains a lot more effort to move away from being sedentary. These findings show that people have a natural inclination toward being lazy and sedentary, the researchers say.
They also suggest our desire to move away from unnecessary physical exertion is probably due to an innate instinct for us to conserve energy—one that comes from our ancestral days—to be put toward more important things instead, like hunting for food, building shelter, and having sex.
The next step in the research is to figure out if this brain activity can be rewired to get our brains to be more inclined to want to choose physical activity over laziness, they say.
Of course, more research needs to be done to be sure of their theories. In light of this, an alternate explanation for the research offered by Laura Corbit, a psychologist from the University of Toronto, is that it’s possible it’s just our learned, and now ingrained habits, as opposed to an innate, biological laziness, that causes us to avoid physical activity—aka most people have become so used to living sedentary lives that our brains no longer want to be physical, almost like we’re addicted to inactivity.
What do you think?
Do you think our brains are holding us back on a biological level, or that our self-created, ingrained habits, are to be blamed for keeping people on the couch instead of lifting weights at the gym?