Science Explains Why You Can’t Get Off the Couch to Exercise

man watching tv on couch

Trending News: There may be more to missing workouts than just being lazy

Do regularly skip the gym? Do you fight with yourself to get off the couch and exercise? Are you making payments to a health club that you barely visit?

If the answer is yes, you aren’t alone. Something like 67% of all gym memberships go unused, according to a published report in USA Today.

The question is – why? Is it simply a case of laziness, mixed in with a lack of motivation? Or, is something else going on that’s hardwired into your brain?

Well, if you believe a recent study published in the journal Neuropsychologia, there may be a scientific reason you resist doing squats or running on the treadmill.

It’s called the physical activity paradox (PAP).

You may be wondering what that means? Essentially, PAP is a ten-dollar term used to describe the dynamic where one half of your brain wants to exercise, and the other half wants to chill.

Per the study, that part of you who wants to chill is being influenced by evolution. Yep, I’m talking Darwinian stuff here linked to prehistoric man.

Now continue geeking out with me for a minute, OK?

Researchers studied 29 people who indicated they wanted to be more physically active but never quite made it a reality.

While being connected to a device that measures brain activity, each person was asked to complete a manikin task, which is a fancy way of saying they were given joysticks that allowed them to move towards or away a displayed object.

In this case, participants were shown a number of images. Some contained pictures of people being physically active. Others had photos of people being sedentary.

So, what did they discover?

According to lead researcher Boris Cheval, “We observed that the electrical activity associated with two brain zones in particular, the frontal-medial cortex and the frontal-central cortex, was much higher when the participant had to choose the sedentary option.”

FYI: The two areas of the brain Cheval is talking about are concerned with logical decision making and survival. And as it turns out, they constantly battle one another.

He continues:

“This means the brain has to use much more resources to move away from sedentary behavior, rather than follow its natural penchant for minimizing effort.”

Translation: Your brain is hardwired, through years of evolution, to conserve as much energy as possible. It gravitates [at least initially] towards staying still.

“Making as little effort as possible was crucial for the human species during evolution”, said Cheval in a press release.

The windup is simply this [going purely by the study]. When you are confronted with the choice between working out versus sitting on the couch, your brain is predisposed to the later. Think of this as your inner-caveman, tugging at you from prehistoric times.

Does this mean you shouldn’t exercise? That’s not what the study suggests. But it does provide a theoretical basis for why you aren’t getting to the gym.

Need some motivation to overcome your gym-skipping ways? Check out this post on how missing workouts can kill your mood.


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About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast