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Overcoming the Couch Potato Urge

From spud to stud.

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The challenge with fitness is making training both effective and pleasurable, particularly for people who want to get active but may not yet have the power to maintain their resolve. Why is it so tough? Research reported in Neuropsychologia (2018; doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.07.029) suggests we are hard-wired to avoid activity, and researchers have good advice for training.

University of Geneva scientists and others conducted the study to explore why we fail to exercise regularly, even though we are fully aware of the negative impact of physical inactivity. Using electroencephalograph technology, investigators examined automatic brain processes that influence choices versus controlled processes that require conscious intentions in 29 healthy young adults as they chose between active or sedentary images. Data analysis showed that more brain activity was required to counteract the appeal of sedentary behaviors.

Researchers concluded that we are naturally more drawn to sedentary behaviors and that offsetting this propensity requires more effort. “Being aware of this automatic attraction toward energy conservation may be a first step to change the behavior,” says lead study author, Boris Cheval, PhD.

Cheval offers the following tips for increasing physical activity:

  • Make physical activity pleasurable.
  • Avoid a “no pain, no gain” attitude.
  • Support policies for more public spaces that promote active opportunities, as opposed to sedentary options.

“We all have the cognitive resources to cope with our innate tendency toward energy conservation,” Cheval said. “By ensuring positive physical activity experience, being more active may become attractive.” He noted that future research will focus on how to retrain automatic brain reactions toward stimuli associated with physically active and inactive behaviors. A pilot study for that research appeared in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (2016; doi:10.1123/jpah.2015-0597).

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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