You may want to sit down for this: New research suggests that thinking about getting up to exercise could build strength IRL — without any actual exercise.
In a four-week study, researchers at the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI) at Ohio University put a total of 29 adults in wrist casts to render them immobile and purposefully weaken their muscles. Fourteen of the participants were instructed to think about moving: Five times a week, they imagined intensely contracting and releasing their casted wrist in a series of 13 five-seconds intervals. The remaining 15 participants lazied out — they couldn’t move their casted wrists, and didn’t give it a second thought.
At the end of the study, the casts came off. While everyone lost wrist strength, those who performed mental imagery exercises lost 50 percent less strength than those who didn’t. Talk about the power of thought!
Of course, there’s more than ~*mAgIc*~ at play here: While you might think that traditional exercise only works your muscles, the truth is that it also trains your mind and nerves to use those muscles efficiently, according to study author Brian C. Clark, Ph.D., OMNI executive director and professor of physiology and neuroscience at Ohio University.
The study findings suggest that while imagining yourself moving might not sculpt super-sexy muscles or torch calories to help you lose weight, it could enhance the connection between your brain and muscles, which contributes to overall strength. In theory, this could increase measured muscle strength without actually training, Clark says.
Don’t quit the gym just yet though: Mental exercise “is not likely to be as effective as actual exercise because you would not get the same benefit applied to the actual muscle,” Clark says.
So nope, you can’t skip the gym today. But if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t move much (like when you’re on a plane or stuck at your desk), thinking about moving your muscles can mitigate the damage.