If you’re one of those people who dreads going to the gym, we have some good news for you: apparently thinking about working out is pretty much as effective as actually doing it.
Thought about working out while sitting at your desk at work? Imagined yourself winning the 100 metre sprint in the Olympics? You’ve probably done your body a whole lot of good.
Why? Well, it all dates back to the 1800’s when scientists found that the body reacts to pictures of things in the same way that it reacts to the actual thing, according to Marie Claire.
Basically, they found that the human mind is so clever that a good visualisation can trick your body into creating the effects of the real thing.
And a guy named Jim Davies has explained exactly how it works.
Writing on the topic for Nautilus, he said:
More recent studies, using modern brain imaging techniques, show that what distinguishes actual and imagined movements are the inhibitory signals sent from other parts of the brain to the motor system. That is, actual and imagined movements involve the same brain activity.
Basically, working out and thinking about working out uses the same part of your brain. But Davies added that in the case of imagination, there’s another part of your brain that stops the message from reaching your muscles.
Exercise scientist Guang Yue put this to the test, and as it turns out, he showed that imagination can be used to increase muscle strength.
He found that pinkie strength could be increased by 22 percent just by imagining exercising its abductor muscles at the metacarpophalangeal joint (in English, that’s the knuckle between the hand and the finger), which is apparently almost as much as actually exercising them (if you actually exercise your pinkie, you can increase its strength by 30 per cent).
So can you skip the treadmill and weights and just go for some couch-based physical activity thinking? Not really. According to Davies, 20 minutes is about all we can manage for a ‘mind work out’.
Any less or more and the practice doesn’t stick as well – mental practice is a supplement, not an alternative. Exactly why is unclear, but it might have to do with the lack of feedback from the real world, or because people find it hard to concentrate for much longer than 20 minutes.
So a mental work out may not give you those sculpted arms you wanted, but it can help make you stronger. And if physical activity is more of a necessary evil in your life than a pleasure, well this could cut your physical time in the gym down by 20 minutes a day – or you can go hardcore, keep the 20 minutes and add the thought exercise on top!