Welcome to Open Science
Contact Us
Home Books Journals Submission Open Science Join Us News
Human Mind: Both the Cause and Solution to the Global Pandemic of Physical Inactivity
Current Issue
Volume 6, 2018
Issue 4 (December)
Pages: 107-113   |   Vol. 6, No. 4, December 2018   |   Follow on         
Paper in PDF Downloads: 26   Since Oct. 26, 2018 Views: 643   Since Oct. 26, 2018
Seppo E. Iso-Ahola, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park, USA.
Objective: To explain the global pandemic of physical inactivity. An innate human tendency to choose an alternative that leads to the same goal with the least amount of effort is a major obstacle for sustained physical activity. A path of least resistance for goal achievement is selected because it requires less effort and energy, causes less cognitive strain, and provides faster gratification. Physical activity, in contrast, demands cognitive and physical energy, is cognitively straining, and necessitates delay of gratification. On first glance, then, it is a small wonder that physical inactivity has become a global pandemic. Theory and Evidence: While the human mind, through its conscious and nonconscious processing, inherently works against physical activity, it can be harnessed to make sustained physical activity possible. Conscious processing works against exercise when it makes people think, “should or should I not go for a run/walk”? Nonconscious processing also works against exercise because it, in and of itself, is inclined to select a path of least resistance and immediate gratification (e.g., TV watching). Yet, nonconscious processing can be made to work for physical activity when exercise is continuously repeated as a response to a situational cue (e.g., sneakers placed next to a door) without cognitive deliberations. Constant repeats of the same physical activity strengthen the cue-behavior link and eventually make the behavior nonconsciously driven and automatic. Thus, paradoxically, nonconscious processing seeks to make demanding and effortful activities paths of least resistance through constant repeats of behavior. Conclusion: As exercise is more of a cognitive than physical battle, delegation of the decision to exercise to nonconscious processing increases the likelihood of sustained physical activity. But if the activity is not repeated with regularity, any decision to engage in physical activity has to rely on conscious thoughts, which, at best, can make people only “occasional” exercisers. Practical Implications: Conscious thoughts, however, can be used to serve nonconscious processing when one’s environment is rearranged to maximize situational cues for exercise and minimize cues for competing activities. Another important (conscious) strategy is to build an exercise infrastructure via if-then plans of when, where, how, and with whom to exercise. These implementation intentions quickly become nonconsciously operated and automatic, thus enhancing the likelihood of sustained physical activity. In this process, personal physicians can play a major role.
Physical Activity, Exercise, Conscious-nonconscious Processing, Automaticity, Motivation, Behavioral Medicine, Health Practices
Lee I-M, Shiroma E, Lobelo, F, Puska, P, Blair S, Katzmarzyk P. Effects of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. Lancet 2012; 380: 219-29.
Lear S, Weihong H, Rangarajan S, et al. The effect of physical activity on mortality and cardiovascular disease in 130 000 people from 17 high-income, middle-income, and low-income countries: the PURE study. Lancet 2017; 390: 2643-2654.
Ding D, Lawson K, Kolbe-Alexander T, et al. The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases. Lancet 2016; 388: 1311-1324.
Bassuk S, Church T, Manson J. Why exercise works magic. Sci Amer 2013; 309: 74-79.
Morris J. Exercise in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Today’s best buy in public health. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1994; 26: 807-14.
Sallis J, Bull F, Gutfold R, et al. Progress in physical activity over the Olympic quadrennnium. Lancet 2016; 388: 1325-36.
Iso-Ahola S. Exercise: why it is a challenge for both the nonconscious and conscious mind. Rev Gen Psychol 2013; 17: 93-110.
Iso-Ahola S. Conscious-nonconscious processing explains why some people exercise but most don’t. J Nat Sci. 2017; 3: e384, 1-16.
Libet B, Gleason C, Wright E, Pearl D. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential): the unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary activity. Brain 1983; 106: 623-42.
Bargh, J. Our unconscious mind. Sci Amer 2014; 310: 30-37.
Baumeister R, Masicampo, E, Vohs, K. Do conscious thoughts cause behavior? Annu Rev Psychol 2011; 62: 331-61.
Rei R, Salvo D, Ogilvie D et al. Scaling up physical activity intervention worldwide: stepping up to larger and smarter approaches to get people moving. Lancet 2016; 388: 1337-48.
Kahneman D. Thinking, fast and slow 2011. New York NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Newell B, Shanks D. Unconscious influences on decision making: a critical review. Beh Brain Sci 2014; 37: 1-61.
Bargh J. Before you know it: the unconscious reasons we do what we do 2017. New York NY: Simon & Schuster.
Baumeister, R. Conquer yourself, conquer the world. Sci Amer 2015; 312: 61-65.
Melnikoff D, Bargh J. The mythical number two. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2018; 22: 280-293.
Custers R, Aarts H. The unconscious will: how the pursuit of goals operates outside of conscious awareness. Science 2010; 329: 47-50.
Zedelius C, Veling H, Aarts H. Boosting or choking-how conscious and unconscious reward processing modulate the active maintenance of goal-relevant information. Consciousness and Cognition 2011; 20: 355-362.
Mischel W. The marshmallow test: why self-control is the engine of success. 2014. New York NY: Little Brown.
Zhong C-B, De Voe S. You are how you eat: fast food and impatience. Psychol Sci 2010; 21: 617-622.
De Voe S, House J, Zhong C-B. Fast food and impatience: a socioecological approach. J Pers Soc Psychol 2013; 105: 476-494.
Woolley K, Fishbach A. Immediate rewards predict adherence to long-term goals. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2017; 43: 151-162.
Gollwitzer P. Implementation intention: strong effects of simple plans. Amer Psychol 1999; 54: 493- 503.
Gollwitzer P, Sheeran P, Trotschel R, Webb T. Self-regulation of priming effects on behavior. Psychol Sci 2012; 22: 901-907.
Houser-Marko L, Sheldon K. Motivating behavioral persistence: the self-as-doer construct. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2006; 32: 1037-1049.
Armitage C. Can the theory of planned behavior predict the maintenance of physical activity? Health Psychol 2005; 24: 235-245.
Bull F, Jamrozik K. Advice on exercise from a family physician can help sedentary patients to become active. Amer J Prev Med 1998; 15: 85-94.
Ortega-Sanzchez R, Jimenez-Mena C, Cordoba-Garcia R, et al. The effect of office-based physician’s advice on adolescent exercise behavior. Prev Med 2004; 38: 219-226.
Thaler R, Sunstein C. Nudge. 2008. New York NY: Penguin Books.
Iso-Ahola S, Miller M. Contextual priming of a complex behavior: exercise. Psychol Consc: Theory, Res, Practice 2016; 3: 258-269.
Iso-Ahola, S. Toward a theory of getting hard (and easy) things done in everyday life. 2018. Submitted for publication.
Cheval B, Radel R, Neva J, et al. Behavioral and neural evidence of the rewarding value of exercise behaviors: a systematic review. Sports Med 2018; 48: 1389-1404.
Edwards H. The masters of mind control. Time 2018; 192 April 23: 31-37.
Open Science Scholarly Journals
Open Science is a peer-reviewed platform, the journals of which cover a wide range of academic disciplines and serve the world's research and scholarly communities. Upon acceptance, Open Science Journals will be immediately and permanently free for everyone to read and download.
Office Address:
228 Park Ave., S#45956, New York, NY 10003
Phone: +(001)(347)535 0661
Copyright © 2013-, Open Science Publishers - All Rights Reserved