Ever wonder why some folks sprint up mountains with a smile on their face, while others can not stand the thought of leaving their couch?
A 2013 study by the American Society For Nutrition compared physical activity levels of twins by tracking their average daily movement, heart rate, and acceleration data. The study concluded that approximately half (47 percent) of our motivation to exercise depends on genetic factors.
Before we blame our ancestors, however, it’s necessary to understand how this behavior is regulated in the brain. Is there a way to alter our predetermined path from a couch potato to an exercise aficionado?
The Journal Of Physiology released another research paper in March 2014 that attempts to deal with this question.
The scientists bred two types of rats that either Low Voluntary Running (LVR) or High Voluntary Running (HVR) behavior. Both rats were then set free to scamper in a running wheel.
Result: In a six-day timespan the HVR rats ran 10 times farther (20 miles) than the LVR rats (2 miles). And while the LVR rats failed to reduce body fat, the HVR rats were getting meaner and leaner by the day. The only difference between the rats was the number of mature neurons in a part of the brain called nucleus accumbens, which is responsible for reward processing. This single biological factor determined whether the rats were going to be runners or slouchers. One experienced running pleasurable, the other as a burden.
An excuse to be a defeatist potato? Not likely.
The scientists also discovered that over time even the sloucher rats started developing new neurons in the reward center. All they needed to do was to keep treading the mill half-heartedly. Sound familiar? That’s right. By going against the grain you can alter your experience, simply because the brain itself is altered.
There it is, scientific proof that you have no excuses left to avoid that excruciating morning run.
The real challenge, especially for overweight people, is to incorporate exercise as a consistent lifestyle. Adherence to exercise translates to neurons in your reward center. Gradually this helps you eliminate your excuses not to exercise.
A cognitive-behavioral study on exercise adherence by the Journal Of Obesity lists methods to overcome the most typical excuses to avoid exercise.
|Reasons for not exercising
|Strategies to increase adherence
|“I would like to exercise, but I feel immediately tired and breathless, and my knees hurt.”
|Low fitness, pain
|Exercising with individuals having the same limits,to reduce the intensity of exercise
|“I do not like exercising, it is boring”
|Boredom, lack of stimuli
|Planning enjoyable activities or amusing exercising(e.g., group dancing or walking)
|“I do not like exercising alone, but when I go walking with friends I realize that I slow down the group, which makes me feel inadequate”
|Comparison with other individuals
|Exercising with subjects having similar problems,in order to avoid competition
|“Exercising in a gym or a swimming pool or even walking in apublic garden makes me feel ashamed, observed, judged, mocked at”
|Body image dissatisfaction
|Arranging a protected environment, and specific courses(gym or swimming pool) for obese persons
|“I’d like to exercise, but I have no time. Back from work, I am tootired and I have to take care of my family”
|Reorganizing daily activities fitting exercise as a priority.Turning everyday activities into exercise (using stairs, walking to work, etc.)
|“The weather was horrible; I had to stay at home”
|Planning short walk in small groups; reducing objectives but maintaining change and adherence
|“I feel so bad when I exercise, that I feel as if I am going to die”
|Increasing goals very slowly, to avoid any sense of breathlessness
For consistent weight management, the journal recommends at least 1,500-2,500 kcal/wk energy expenditure, which is a tough target to achieve for many overweight individuals—until they realize that going against the grain eventually creates a rewarding experience.