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Overcoming the Couch Potato Urge

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).


  1. Stacy Williams Jr. on January 2, 2020 at 11:40 pm

    Hey, miss you guys. Worked out only a few times this year at anytime fitness on southern loop. Walk 4-5 miles per day 4-5 days a week. Not great but anything helps. May move to Schumpert over by Home Depot. You still training there?

  2. Joseph Morgan on January 13, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Shirley Archer’s article, “OVERCOMING THE COUCH POTATO URGE” is timely for me. I just wrote an editors comment in one of my newsletters. This is what I wrote. “In living my lofty goals and aspirations, I was ‘slapped in the face with reality’ the other day. While discussing the demerits of a fatty type of food, one of the people present whispered to a neighbour, ‘I don’t care, I like eating’. This was not a reference to having ‘guilt foods’ in moderation, but was a very honest and straightforward comment regarding her lifestyle. And it hit home. Some people don’t care about being fat, having high blood sugar and high lipid counts. Some people really do not care about having diabetes, having high blood pressure and having to ‘exist’ on medicine for the rest of their lives. Medicine permits them to live with it and they are happy with that. Everyday, these people who ‘don’t care, I just like to eat’, walk with their saggy wobbly bums, soft wobbly arms, and stomachs over their belts. Some people do not care about doing the best job they can do, or striving for continuous quality improvement as a person or co-worker.” Essentially, I was commenting on sometimew we just have to accept laizey faire, lackadazical, ‘I don’t care’, and that no matter what we do, we still will not reach a number of people. I’ve always realized that humans are basically a “lazy animal” and that we inately always look for an “easy way out”. Shirley’s article here, provides an insight as to why. Thanks for this timely research Ms. Archer.

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