People prefer being lazy because our brains are wired that way, study says

People are inherently lazy because that's just how our brains are wired, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

The study, published in the Neuropsychologia​, set out to solve the "exercise paradox" — why society is getting lazier even though we know the risks associated with an unhealthy, inactive lifestyle.

The answer, according to researchers, is that our brains are simply built to pick what's easier.

Healthy choice at a cost

For the study, researchers sat young adults in front of a computer and gave them a digital avatar to move around the screen.

Images of physical activity or relaxation flashed on the monitor, one at a time. Participants had to move their avatar toward the active option and away from the lazy one as quickly as possible.

All the while, electrodes recorded their brain activity.

The study found participants generally made the healthier choice and moved quickly toward images of exercise — but their brain worked harder to do it.

"The exciting novelty of our study is that it shows this faster avoidance of physical inactivity comes at a cost — and that is an increased involvement of brain resources," said Matthieu Boisgontier, a postdoctoral researcher at UBC and senior author of the study. 

"These results suggest that our brain is innately attracted to sedentary behaviours."

Boisgontier said our attraction to lazy days has likely been reinforced over generations.

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"Conserving energy has been essential for humans' survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners and avoiding predators," he said.

Whether we can change our habits, the researcher added, remains to be seen.

"Anything that happens automatically is difficult to inhibit, even if you want to, because you don't know that it is happening. But knowing that it is happening is an important first step."

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