Study Finds Thinking About Working Out Almost as Effective as the Real Thing

Now that the year is practically over, fitness goals start taking center stage in our resolutions and New Year’s goals. For most of us, that’s a desire lose weight and get healthier. But many of us struggle with working out regularly or effectively. Brace yourselves for this news: can you think yourself healthy?

That’s the findings of a new study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology. According to the research, muscle tissue responds to the thoughts of working out and specific exercises, “simply imagining exercise can trick the muscles into delaying atrophy and even getting stronger,” reports UPI. “It's further proof that brain and body, which evolved together, are more intwined than separate.” 

It’s a huge revelation, especially for those of us who don’t get to exercise as often or as intensely as we like. Here’s how it happened. According to UPI, the researchers at Ohio University“wrapped a single wrist of two sets of study participants in a cast -- immobilizing their muscles for four weeks. One set was instructed to sit still and intensely imagine exercising for 11 minutes, five days a week. More than just casually daydream about going to the gym, participants were instructed to devote all of their mental energy towards imagining flexing their arm muscles,” UPI explained.“The other set of study participants weren't given any specific instructions. At the end of the four weeks, the mental-exercisers were two times stronger than the others.”

The researchers also took MRI scans of the brain and the group that imagined exercising also had stronger brain activity with the mental exercises creating stronger neuromuscular pathways.

"What our study suggests is that imagery exercises could be a valuable tool to prevent or slow muscles from becoming weaker when a health problem limits or restricts a person's mobility," study author Brian Clark, a professor of physiology and neuroscience at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a press release.

"The most impactful finding, however, is not the direct clinical application but the support that this work provides for us to better understand the critical importance of the brain in regulating muscle strength," Clark added. "This information may fundamentally change how we think about muscle weakness in the elderly."

While mentally working out is no replacement for a physical one, studies besides this one have found that imagining the muscles being engaged can activate the same parts of the brain that real exercise does and that’s incredibly important for those unable to workout due to injury or illness. And while it may help to enhance your workout by thinking about your spin class once you’re home, don’t let it be an excuse to skip out on the real thing.

Image: plantronicsgermany

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