Your Body Is Not Your Fitness
Anyone catch this article on body size and workout attitudes a while back in the New York Times? It’s a worthwhile read but to give you the short version, it’s about a recent study suggesting that “our attitudes toward physical activity may be attributed to or more influenced by our body size than has previously been understood.”
Here’s my take on how your brain and exercise work together:
we’ve known for a long time that exercise helps the brain. American Football athletes are sometimes perceived as being ‘dumb jocks’ (not by me, of course), but they have to memorize multiple plays and formations so there has to be some mental capacity there, right? Ask any truly dedicated football athlete (or fan, for that matter) who won that championship what year and they’ll likely be able to tell you who played, what the score was and maybe even a few play highlights.
Exercise Flush For Brain Function
The function of exercise flushes the brain with blood (or fresh nutrients). If we want a brain that works well, then we need a well-rinsed brain. A better working brain gives us better answers and more confidence in using it when it comes to hard questions like math, where you parked the car or what women really mean when they say “would you like to talk about this later over coffee?” (which might actually require shutting off the “other” brain, eh-hem).
So how does this tie back to the research? What’s interesting is that the findings suggest that overweight participants found exercise off-putting, partly because they anticipated disliking physical activity more than sitting sedentary. To contrast, the leaner participants had a positive reaction when presented with images of others working out, and they imagined doing the same themselves.
And even more interesting was that in the overweight participants, “their bodies were unfamiliar with how to be active, which might have contributed, the study’s authors speculate, to the women’s negative emotional response to activity. They didn’t know how to exercise and anticipated not enjoying trying to learn.” In essence, the brain didn’t want to exercise because they were anticipating a painful experience (the same way I feel before my wife makes me watch ‘The Bachelor’).
And as a fitness professional I’ve seen it many times in different forms. Just the other day I was in our Denver studio watching a personal training client slowly lose form and at the same time, his enthusiasm seemed to fall. So naturally, I told him one of my best jokes (note I said ‘best’ jokes, not ‘funny’ jokes). We cleaned up his form, got him in the right headspace and he was on his way again. And as this client’s body becomes more active, he’s becoming happier to see me (without so much as a banana in his pocket!). At least that’s what he tells me. I’m sticking to it.
So not only does exercise flush the brain to help us rule trivia night or remember exactly where we left our keys, but the memories of being active actually help us feel compelled to continue to do so and reduces anticipation of not enjoying being active.
The ‘fitness’ moral of the story? The more you move, the less you fear it!