Today we bring you some exciting news in the field of exercise. (Yes, the field of exercise. I picture an actual field where people exercise, mostly by plowing and tilling things, whatever that means.) Apparently, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, simply imagining that you’re exercising can have the same effect as actually exercising, thus giving us further scientific proof that your body is an idiot.
“Did I work out?”
“Yeah, you worked out.”
“Oh, okay, good. I’m starving!”
This is great news for me, because I imagine exercising all the time. And I have an awesome imagination. I should be the fittest guy ever.
In fact, I think about exercising every day. It’s on my To Do list, but I push it off for things that will not tire me out or require me to go outside and stretch in public places. And then at the end of the day, when I finish those things, I’m like, “Well, I’m not going to exercise now! It’s the end of the day!”
And we know that this study is grounded in real science, because it works the other way too. For example, I find that when I imagine eating cake, I still gain weight.
But does this work with other parts of life? Can you just, for example, imagine going to work?
Yes. And then your boss will imagine paying you.
Okay, so imagining exercising is not just as effective, probably, but it is more effective than not imagining exercising. At least according to scientists at Ohio University in Athens (Ohio, not Greece).
“Simply imagining that you’re exercising can tone muscle, delay atrophy, and even make your muscles stronger,” said Brian Clark, who conducted the study.
I do want to point out, though, that the study doesn’t claim that it helps you lose weight, just that it helps you build muscles. So you’ll still be fat, but no one will dare make fun of you for it. And if they do, you won’t hear them, because you’ll be off in your own world, imagining punching them in the nose.
Also, according to the study, it’s not enough to just imagine that you exercised. Apparently, you have to imagine doing every single push-up, and count them. You can even grunt out the numbers, like you would in real life, so long as the people around you are aware of what you’re doing. So don’t do it on the subway.
Basically, you’re doing mental exercises, which are apparently real exercises. This explains what was going on that first time in school that you had a teacher who called math problems “exercises,” and she said, “Now we’re going to do some exercises,” and you were thrilled, because you were sick of sitting around and doing math, and then the teacher just gave you more problems. Well, they’re not problems, they’re mental exercises. I don’t know why I thought we were going to do jumping jacks in math class.
To conduct the study, scientists took two sets of people and put casts on their wrists for a month. One set was told to sit still for 11 minutes a day, five days a week and perform mental imagery of working out their wrists. The other set was, to quote the study, “not given any instruction.” In other words, I guess, they sat around for four weeks trying not to think about how much it itched.
According to the article, “At the end of the four weeks, the participants who engaged in the mental exercise were twice as strong as those who didn’t. Those participants also developed what researchers call ‘stronger brains.’”
Stronger brains? I don’t think I have a strong enough brain to know what that means. Does it mean they don’t need a bike helmet?
There was no third group that actually exercised for real for the 30 days. Probably because whatever they would be able to lift could not compare with what the scientists were trying to make the test subjects lift after 30 days in a cast. For all we know, the test was like, “Can you lift this pencil?” And the people who did the mental exercises could sort of lift the pencil. Maybe it was one of those huge therapy pencils that you have to sharpen with a hatchet.
Of course, we’re all very excited about this study, as we are with any study that says that we don’t have to work out or eat better. The point of the study was so that people who get injured can still imagine that they’re exercising, but anyone can do it. If you have a good enough imagination, you can probably imagine doing several exercises at once to save time, like lifting weights while on a treadmill, or rowing a boat full of exercise machines—things that would probably break your neck in real life.
And this is great, because in real life, I can do like two pushups. But in my mind, I can do hundreds. So it’s probably even more effective than actually working out.
It’s also great for starting off longer workout programs. I recently tried an exercise program called “Couch to 5K,” which claims that, if you follow their regimen, then in nine weeks you can go from sitting on the couch all day to running 5K, whatever that is. I never got to find out, because I couldn’t finish Day One. Turns out I have to work up to day one. So maybe this is how I’ll do that—I’ll imagine running every day. Though, knowing me, I’ll probably imagine spraining my ankle or something.
By Mordechai Schmutter
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].