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It turns out that laziness may be a built-in trait left over from our prehistoric days
Recent Simon Fraser University research found that even within a well-rehearsed movement like walking, the nervous system subconsciously monitors energy use and continuously re-optimizes movement patterns in a constant effort to move as cheaply as possible.
This is good news if you’re an athlete, says lead researcher Max Donelan. Moving as cheaply as possible reserves energy to help you excel in your sport or activity. However, for those wanting to burn more calories while exercising, it’s not great news, he says.
The researchers tested theories of how we learn to move. When leg braces added resistance to the knee joint, they noticed the participants changed fundamental characteristics of their gait while walking, just to gain a few percentage points’ savings in energetic cost.
Donelan says our subconscious ability to continuously optimize and adjust our movements benefits us in keeping physical efforts energetically optimal.
It helps backpackers efficiently adapt to changing terrains, it helps patients compensate for movement deficits after injury or disease and, for better or worse, it helps all of us move with as little energy as possible.
However, moving in the most economical way possible is bad news for those trying to lose weight. The study confirms it is indeed a myth that exercise is more effective for weight loss than dieting: cutting calories remains the important factor.