Exercising is a battle against your own brain

The exercise involves an internal battle with the elements that have been rooted for millions of years

The exercise involves an internal battle with the elements that have been rooted for millions of years

We all know that exercising is essential to enjoy good health. Following an adequate diet without tobacco or alcohol and abandoning a sedentary lifestyle are some of the recommendations we hear almost daily to live a healthy life… and yet why is it so difficult for us to get up from the couch? The answer to this question is more complex and interesting than it seems.

Let’s first take a look at our body. Homo Sapiens is a strange species. In nature we are not the biggest animals, nor the strongest, we are not even very fast… If you look at us critically, we are quite weak and slow animals. Although we are deceitful, we actually have one physical characteristic that stands out from the rest of the species: our resistance, No one would say that we are great runners because when we think of running we think of running fast. The clearest example of this is Alexander Sorokin and his world record of a hundred kilometers in just over six hours… no species could survive, We are great long-distance runners, our quality as extraordinary as it is unobvious.

We have evolved to exercise and yet the initial question remains…if our body is perfect for getting out of the chair and traveling long distances for hours, even in the heat and humidity. So why is it so hard for us, even in the most adverse circumstances? To exercise? ,

In a recent article published in Science Focus, neuroscientist and author Dean Burnett provides some keys to this question by looking at our brains. It’s an interesting paradox: on the one hand, our muscles and tendons, our bipedalism or our sweat glands make us great long-distance athletes… while, on the other hand, Our brain evolved to avoid exercise,

If we look at it objectively, exercise is usually not pleasant, it creates discomfort and consumes a large amount of energy that our brain tries to conserve. Pushing the body to the limits of its capabilities is not a pleasant option, especially when that effort does not yield a direct reward.

Actually, there is a small structure in our brain, which is called Insular cortex or simply insula, which plays a fundamental role in decision making. Studies show that one of its most fascinating functions is Calculate how much energy a certain exercise will take and decide whether it’s worth it.,

Staying in shape requires regular and sustained effort without quick and obvious rewards… something that is not easily perceived by our neural decision-making center, which has been trained for millions of years with explicit incentives and compensation. Programmed for quick decisions. Urgent: “There is food, eat”, “There is danger, run”, “There is pain, escape”.

However, all is not lost, the complexity of our brain also has some “tricks” that allow us to overcome this evolutionary dilemma. Our inspiration and working system is also able to delay gratification, Our symbolic thinking can look beyond and reject immediate rewards (or accept unwanted pain) as long as it can lead to a greater reward in the future…this is the key to motivation.

It is also easy to fool our brains and this is where the so-called “just world illusion” appears, an idea accepted by our circuits that believe that effort (and even suffering) will probably generate rewards later on. Will do. Studies also show that the culture of effort is also a powerful evolutionary incentive that makes us strongly believe that the discomfort, suffering, energy, and effort required for a certain activity will bring us greater reward in the future.

Statistics say that “good wishes and good New Year’s resolutions” increase the number of gym registrations during this month of January… and they drop sharply in February. It’s interesting to think that every time you put on your sneakers and prepare to go for a morning run, your brain is waging a battle with evolutionary, social, and cultural elements that have been ingrained for millions of years.

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Scientific references and further information:

Dean Burnett “Your brain is hardwired to avoid exercise. This is because” Science Focus (2024)

Droutman, Vita, et al. “Roles of different sub-regions of the insular cortex at different stages of the decision-making process.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, (2015) DOI:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00309.

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