Mind Control: You Can Trick Your Body Into Thinking It's Exercised When It Hasn't

​A Canadian psychology professor claims mental imagery of exercise can make our bodies think it has worked out

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It took five minutes of watching the Olympics' Super Saturday for us to consider how realistic it would be to quit our jobs, pick up a sport and compete in the 2020 Toyko Olympic Games.

Unfortunately, it also took five minutes for us to realise that we a) couldn't squeeze into our Year 9 gymnastics costumes anymore b) enjoy lying by the pool rather than swimming three lengths of it and c) would probably need to stop eating brownies every day and adopt an athlete's diet. 

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However, according to a new study in cognitive psychology, just thinking about doing exercise can trick the body into believing it's done a work out.

We haven't loved science more so than right now.

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According to Jim Davis, a professor of cognitive psychology at Canada's Carleton University, mental imagery of exercise can make us stronger due to proprioception – the ability to sense where your body parts are.

'Just as visual imagery uses the same brain areas as visual perception, motor imagery tends to use the same brain areas responsible for moving your body,' says Davis. 

Basically, think it and it will happen.

It's not the first time psychological workouts have been proven to produce physical benefits.

In 2014, researchers tested volunteers whose arms were in plaster cast, asking half of them to imagine moving their wrists. As a result, the muscles in those who had thought about flexing their wrists were twice as strong as those who didn't.

Davis also notes that cognitive practice such as imagining winning a race will improve your overall performance. 

'One study, by Rutgers psychologist Robert Woolfolk, and colleagues, had people simply imagine putting a golf ball into the hole before they took their shot. The people who imagined making it had 30.4 percent more successful putts than those who did not,' he added. 

Of course, thinking about exercise isn't better than actual exercise but it's better than nothing, right?

So if you can't be bothered going to the gym tonight, have a night off and think about the exercise you'd be doing instead.

It's a win-win situation. Kind of. 

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