We all have that friend who slacks around, claiming that a mental workout is better than nothing, while we all slave away at the gym, following the popular belief of ‘no pain, no gain’. And as much as we would like to believe that he’s in for a world of hurt, researchers of the Ohio University say that he’s actually half way from where we stand.
The researchers at the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI) confirm that yes, indeed imagining a workout does indeed help out. For their research the research, they recruited people and divided them into three groups. The first two groups were required to wear casts that spanned from their elbows to their fingers, immobilizing their wrist joints effectively. The third group was the control group and was not required to wear casts.
What the first two groups did not have in common was how they both approached time in cast. One group was not supposed to do much, while the other group had to go through an exercise routine, which went something like this, “Begin imagining that you are pushing in as hard as you can with your left wrist, push, push, push…and stop. (Five-second rest.) Start imagining that you are pushing in again as hard as you can, keep pushing, keep pushing…and stop. (Five-second rest.)”. This exercise routine had to be performed on verbal cues, four times in a row before a one minute break and had to be done 13 times in one session. These sessions were held over five days a week for four weeks.
The results show that people in casts had both lost strength. However, people who had participated in mental imagery exercises retained 50% of their strength, while those who performed no imagery exercises lost significant strength.
Now, we all know that the basic structures used in for movement are the skeletal muscles, however, this research shows that stimulation of the cortex also yielded the same results only not as effective as actual physical exercise itself. This is though to be due to voluntary activation (VA) of the muscles from the brain, leading to less damage, than would have happened otherwise.
Brian C. Clark who leads the study says, “These findings suggest neurological mechanisms, most likely at the cortical level, contribute significantly to disuse-induced weakness, and that regular activation of the cortical regions via imagery attenuates weakness and VA by maintaining normal levels of inhibition. Thus our findings that imagery attenuated the loss of muscle strength provide proof-of-concept for it as a therapeutic intervention for muscle weakness and voluntary neural activation.”
The article was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology.