Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at our natural inclination for laziness, the surprisingly good effect of screens on fitness, and how insurers are coming for your tracker data.
Are we wired to be lazy?
While we’d all like to think this isn’t true, a new neurological study suggests that from an evolutionary standpoint, we probably are. According to the research in The New York Times, even when people know that movement is good and have plans to work out, certain electrical signals in their brains may steer them toward being sedentary.
Researchers were curious about why so few people regularly work out despite their plans and stated desires to get fit. Could it be something other than those old excuses about lack of time or ability? Is something going on inside their heads that squelches their enthusiasm for exercise?
To find out, researchers from the University of British Columbia had 29 healthy young men and women wear a cap with electrodes and complete an elaborate computer test that had them move their avatars away from sedentary activities like reclining on a couch or hammock and toward mobile activities such as hiking or biking.
All the volunteers uniformly moved the avatars toward active images rather than sedentary ones, showing they preferred the figures in motion. However, unconsciously their brains didn’t agree. According to the electrical activity measured in their brains, the volunteers had to deploy far more brain resources to move their characters to physical active images versus lazy ones, indicating that their brains were called more strongly to images of the lazy life—possibly an evolutionary holdout from a time when food was scarce and conserving energy was important.
The results of this research should be empowering to those who don’t feel motivated to work out, says lead researcher Matthieu Boisgontier, Ph.D., because now they know “it is not just them.”
Go ahead and watch that show on the treadmill
It’s rare to hear a piece of good news about screen time and fitness. Our addictions to smartphones and Netflix have cut into our workout time and increased our calorie consumption. But according to this study in The Washington Post, it’s not so bad when you’re using it as a tool to sustain your fitness.
A group from the University of Ottawa measured the post-exercise food intake and activity of teenage boys who jogged on a treadmill for 30 minutes while watching TV, listening to music or receiving no other stimuli. Similar studies with sedentary volunteers have shown that calories increased after a lazy bout of TV watching or listening to music. And separate studies showed that people tended to compensate for exercise by moving less the rest of the day.
However, the Ottawa team found that the teens who worked out with screens or music didn’t eat more or move less throughout the rest of the day. And unsurprisingly, they found the workouts significantly more enjoyable, indicating that they might be more likely to repeat them in the future.
“Stranger Things” on the stationary bike, anyone?
They’re coming for your data … with gifts
In a first-of-its-kind move here in the U.S., life insurance company John Hancock has announced it will now give incentives for all policyholders who submit their fitness tracker data voluntarily.
These new interactive “Vitality” policies will reward workouts or healthy food purchases with the ability to spin the wheel for gift cards from places such as Amazon or REI and give discounts on fitness trackers, according to Vox.
While this all sounds great for people already making healthy choices, experts wonder what happens when you veer off course with your fitness? And what will big companies do with all your data once they have it?
For their part, John Hancock officials say they’re just interested in getting people to live longer so they don’t have to pay out as many lump sums to spouses or children. And data from Vitality’s program in other countries suggests people with these policies do indeed live longer than the rest of the population.
The news comes at a critical time for health tracking, with Fitbit working with employers and health-care plans to get people moving and tracking, and Apple recently releasing a Series 4 Apple Watch with a feature that takes electrocardiogram readings of your heart.
It’s great for getting more targeted health care, experts say, but a slippery slope for consumer privacy.
Photo credit: TheVisualsYouNeed, Adobe Stock