Can imaginary exercise make you fit?

February 3, 2008

As I firmly believe I will become a great cook merely by owning cookbooks, then this piece of research really intrigued me. Breakthrough research in the field of exercise physiology has yielded stunning revelations about the way we get fit. The big surprise, though, is not what we “have” to do, but what we might “not” have to do. Apparently this is part of the metaphysical belief system that your thoughts create your reality, certainly something I agree with though whether it can improve my fitness I remain to be convinced.

For decades, exercise scientists have worked to discover how we get fit. Getting stronger, we were told, was about creating enough resistance in a muscle to create millions of micro-tears that would, over days, weeks and months, rebuild themselves, bigger, leaner and stronger. So when we lift weights, sprint or engage in pretty much any kind of exercise, we set this whole process in motion. The entire cycle is known as hypertrophy and it’s always been considered a pretty mechanical experience.

Now it appears, that building muscle is not nearly as mechanical as everyone thought. A recent study at Bishop’s University, Quebec, reveals you may be able to make nearly identical gains in strength and fitness without any effort. That study measured the strength gains in three different groups of people two lots did different types of exercise and the third control group did nothing but think about exercising. The end result? The ‘thinkers’ had a 24% increase in strength, almost the same as the group that trained three times a week.

Actually, nobody knows exactly, but your mind is the key to the conundrum. Through it’s connection to the endocrine system (the body’s chemical plant), different thoughts and mental states release hormones that can dramatically accelerate or retard muscle growth. Other chemicals work on different organs to either fire-up or slow-down your metabolism – think of the ‘fight or flight’ response’ – and how fast your body responds to a perceived threat.

A Harvard study reported in February 2007 appears to also confirm this theory when they looked at the impact of your thoughts on calories burned. In that study, the housekeeping staff in a major hotel were told that what they did on a daily basis qualified as the amount of exercise needed to be fit and healthy. They didn’t change their routine, did nothing differently and just kept on with their jobs. However, armed with this new knowledge, within four weeks the group had lost weight and lowered their blood pressure, body-fat percentage, waist-hip ratio and Body Mass Index, all without going near a gym. A control group, doing the same job, were not told that their job qualified as exercise and none of that group saw any of those health or fitness improvements.

Another factor that comes into play is your body’s nervous system. The signal that makes a muscle contract begins as an electrical impulse in your brain. That impulse is transmitted through your body’s electrical circuitry or nerves to the muscle. How efficiently that impulse is delivered and how receptive your muscle is to that impulse determines, in large part, how forcefully that muscle can contract. The more fully and the faster it contracts, the stronger we say it is. We call this process neuromuscular facilitation and you can repeatedly ‘visualise’ a muscle contracting, without ever actually contracting it and that’s how many sports coaches teach injured players to slow down the inevitable loss of strength during recovery from an injury.

So it appears that simply visualising an exercise may provide a nearly equivalent strength-building benefit as actually working-out. Anyone want to join me in a ‘keep fit’ routine that involves visualising yourself taking a brisk walk? Time to get out my own meditation CD and starting a daily meditation which I intend taking in my recliner with my two cats for company. They may as well get the benefits too, don’t you think? If you want to know more about my meditation CD please visit my website here:


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