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We all know that exercise is vital to our health.

Why, then, is it so difficult to avoid a sedentary lifestyle? The frenzied pace and work-centered culture of modern life certainly play a role—it’s difficult to prioritize exercise with so many other pressing societal obligations.

But scientists believe the story doesn’t end there. A new study suggests that our tendency toward inactivity is an innately wired part of our brain chemistry.

The researchers behind the study certainly weren’t trying to prove that we’re lazy. They simply wanted to understand why, despite the sincere desire to remain active and fit, so many of us live a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. They hope that an understanding of our neurology can better equip us to overcome ingrained inclinations.

A systematic review by this research team provided “behavioral and neural evidence” that the average person genuinely wants to remain physically active. Our “automatic behaviors” suggest that we instinctively consider physical activity a reward, and even that our attention is more easily captured by the idea of exercise than by the idea of being sedentary.[1] For example, the researchers found that people reflexively direct their attention toward images of physical activity and away from images of sitting and inactivity.

When the researchers found that hardly any of the review’s participants were able to follow through with their exercise goals, though, they devised the more recent study to determine the neurological underpinnings that might be inhibiting progress.

They suspected that some involuntary, biological mechanism might be hampering progress—and they found plenty of data to support their hypothesis.

How (and why) the brain thwarts our intentions to exercise

Here’s how researchers designed their experimental setup. They recruited healthy, young men and women, all of whom expressed a desire to exercise and a limited ability to act on their intentions. These participants used avatars to interact with a complex computer simulation, which presented them with stick figures engaged in various physical activities and sedentary behaviors. The participants were told to navigate their avatar toward “active” stick-figures and away from “sedentary” stick-figures, and then vice versa.

This testing method implements what are known as “approach-avoidance” tasks. By noting the response times for each task, the researchers were able to gain insight into participants’ conscious feelings and inclinations. And by simultaneously recording participants’ brain activity with a multi-electrode fitted cap, the researchers could determine whether the brain’s biological, reflexive inclinations were in alignment with the person’s conscious feelings.

Almost without exception, the study participants preferred to navigate toward the active stick-figures (i.e. they performed the task more quickly). Just as researchers suspected, though, the brain had a contrary inclination—electrical brain activity revealed that giving attention to the active stick-figures actually took more energy and resources than giving attention to the sedentary ones. This conflict between conscious and unconscious inclinations was most pronounced in areas of the brain that govern inhibition, in which the researchers observed far greater electrical stimulation (and thus a greater amount of energy expended) when participants moved toward active stick-figures.[2]

Experts have noted that this data makes evolutionary sense. In the early days of our species, food was a precious commodity, and less physical exertion translated to fewer necessary calories. But needless to say, this instinctive urge to conserve energy is a dated one, particularly for those of us fortunate enough to have access to all the food we need.

Fight the urge to avoid exercise (it’s worth it)

It’s a good thing we’re consciously attracted to overcoming our evolutionary inclination toward inactivity—because a sedentary lifestyle can be detrimental to our health.

As we covered in previous articles, sitting is the new smoking. It dramatically hampers metabolism, raises cholesterol, promotes insulin resistance, raises your risk of cancer, and is terrible for your back.

Inactivity is also famously associated with cardiovascular issues—and the problem has to do with far more than just aerobic fitness. One fascinating study revealed that a sedentary lifestyle may negatively impact the differentiation of neural stem cells, which can lead not only to heart failure, but also neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and spinal muscular atrophy.[3]

Here’s the good news: because we are consciously attracted to exercise, it’s fairly easy to create a virtuous cycle of frequent physical activity.

Overcoming the initial disinclination to be active is the hardest part, but people who stick to an exercise routine for just a couple of months find that they’re increasingly drawn to continuing it—the electrical impulses impelling us toward inactivity are overshadowed by endorphins, hormone cascades, and the general feeling of well-being that comes with getting in great shape.

There’s never a bad time to establish an exercise routine, so find an activity that you enjoy and get started!


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29556981

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30056055

[3] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.00336/full

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just-how-dangerous-is-sitting-all-day-infographic--e2459d8cc0

You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking.

As surprising as this claim may sound, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the evidence. Study after study seems to suggest that we’re just not built for sitting around as often as we do.

And often is an understatement. The average American adults spends 9.3 hours sitting (or otherwise engaged in sedentary behavior).[1]

The negative effects of sitting this much on can’t even be counteracted by daily strenuous exercise.

What you really need to do is redesign your daily living routines, so that they include lots of standing, walking, and squatting, as well as movement and stretching breaks.

Just keep in mind that, for optimal health, all of these micro-activities need to be performed in addition to a strenuous daily workout—not in lieu of it.

>> Secrets to a Pain Free Life Without Going Under the Knife

Why is Sitting So Bad for You?

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why sitting is so terrible for you, in case you need some more convincing.

It makes your metabolism slow to a crawl. Almost immediately after you sit down, your body’s metabolism slows down considerably leading  to weight gain and slow metabolism.

Over time, metabolism inhibition can foster a state of systemic sluggishness and accelerate aging. Caloric consumption is also decreased by 70% (compared to walking), which also serves as a barrier to optimal health and peak performance.

It increases LDL. With a sedentary metabolism comes a decrease in an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which allows muscle to uptake fat, and thus decreases the total amount of fat in the bloodstream.[2]

Combine this with the worrying fact that sedentary activity causes rapid degradation of skeletal muscle, and you have a recipe for dangerously high cholesterol.

It leads to insulin resistance. Because of the pronounced metabolism inhibition that it causes, even just a couple hours of sitting per day can eventually lead to insulin resistance, the precursor to type 2 diabetes.

While there’s still some debate in the medical community, it seems to be a lack of physical activity—not sitting itself—that’s the issue. The negative effects of sedentary behavior are made even worse by its common association with other unhealthy habits, like eating junk food.

That being said, a long-term study that factored in fitness level found a much weaker correlation between sitting and insulin resistance.[3] Essentially, individuals who are very physically active are less likely to develop insulin resistance, despite some sedentary behavior.

Don’t take this as an excuse to log more hours in front of the TV, though. Another study demonstrated that just 5 days of complete “rest” caused the onset of insulin resistance.[4]

It takes an awful lot of exercise to neutralize a day in the office anyway, and your overall health will still be much better off if you punctuate your day with movement rituals (and then also fit in a strenuous workout).

It raises your risk of cancer. You can get cancer just by sitting around? Unfortunately, a number of studies suggest that the answer is a resounding yes.

Here’s the worst part: unlike sitting-induced insulin resistance—which seems like it can be counteracted with sufficient exercise—cancer seems to be linked to sitting regardless of how physically active you are.

The key factor that raised the risk for cancer was the total amount of time spent sitting on a daily basis (particularly with colon cancer and endometrial cancer). The more hours a person spends sitting, the higher risk they have for cancer—and no amount of exercise changes that correlation.

And by the way, we’re not talking about a measly percentage increase in risk. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute claims that sitting and sedentary behavior increases the risk of various cancers by up to 66%.[5]

It’s terrible for your back. I figured I’d save the most obvious point for last. Anyone who’s spent most of their day sitting over a long period of time (and for those with a day job, that’s basically the norm) can attest to the back problems that it causes.

Some people get off easy with low-grade stiffness or soreness, and others suffer intolerable levels of pain. Anyway you cut it, sitting leads to terrible posture and dangerous spinal compression.

The muscles in our lower backs literally have to contract in an attempt to deal with the unnatural posture that sitting forces upon us.

This accumulating muscle tension and compression persists as pain and stiffness even after we stand up…and the longer we sit, the more the tension worsens.

There IS Hope

Although your daily work life may obligate you to lengthy period of sitting, it should be obvious that it’s worth it to attenuate its effects however you can.

Take at least a bit of time to stand, move, stretch, and walk every hour. Reduce your sedentary activity outside of work (or at least move in some way every hour). And if possible, explore alternatives like standing desks and medicine ball chairs.

Click Here to check out this program from Board Certified Doctor of Physical Therapy Chad Walding.  He has spent the last several years developing ways to avoid this hidden threat!

Chad’s SINGLE FOCUS has been giving countless patients lasting relief from devastating chronic pain and now he has agreed to share it all with you.

 


References

[1] http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-15004/sitting-all-day-is-really-really-bad-for-you-infographic.html

[2] http://www.cpcinc-blog.com/2013/01/05/day-5-they-call-it-sitting-disease/

[3] http://time.com/2977994/sitting-all-day-isnt-as-bad-if-you-do-this/

[4] http://www.cpcinc-blog.com/2013/01/05/day-5-they-call-it-sitting-disease/

[5] http://time.com/2884953/sitting-can-increase-your-risk-of-cancer-by-up-to-66/

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