Researchers from the Brain Behaviour Laboratory designed an experiment to understand why the couch attracts us so much more than a good workout. The group led by Matthieu Boisgontier discovered that the human brain might innately prefer the lack of physical activity.
The human kind would not have survived without energy conservation mechanisms. We had to prioritise our basic needs: water, food, shelter or reproduction, so any unnecessary activity would lead to the waste of precious energy. Boisgontier’s group studied whether this evolutionary adaptation could be blamed for the fiasco of numerous campaigns encouraging physical activity.
Young adults participating in the experiment were asked to control an avatar on a computer screen, by moving it towards flashed small images representing physical activity, and away from physical inactivity, as quickly as they could. Later the task was reversed: the avatar had to move towards inactive images, and away from active ones. Throughout the whole experiment researchers measured the brain activity of participants.
Participants acted faster in the first case, which confirmed the results of previous studies conducted by the groups. “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 reported. It might mean that our brains are just wired to keep us lazy!
The results explain why we struggle so much to choose jogging over Netflix. Can we change our brains preferences? “Anything that happens automatically is difficult to inhibit, even if you want to, because you do not know that it is happening,” Boisgontier warned. But he also reassured that awareness of this process can help us act against our innate laziness.
So, if you don’t feel like sweating today, remember: it’s not your fault!