A study announced recently could potentially revolutionize medical treatment within workers’ compensation and completely destroy the burgeoning fitness industry, as well as totally change the home dynamic for the recalcitrant couch potato. Researchers at Ohio University just published the results of their study in the Journal of Neurophysiology showing that human muscles will respond to simple thoughts of exercise, and just imagining exercise “can trick the muscles into delaying atrophy and even getting stronger”.

Specifically, the source story reports:

“To demonstrate the power of the brain, researchers at Ohio University wrapped a single wrist of two sets of study participants in a cast — immobilizing their muscles for four weeks. One set was instructed to sit still and intensely imagine exercising for 11 minutes, five days a week. More than just casually daydream about going to the gym, participants were instructed to devote all of their mental energy towards imagining flexing their arm muscles.

The other set of study participants weren't given any specific instructions. At the end of the four weeks, the mental-exercisers were two times stronger than the others.”

Researchers also employed magnetic imaging to isolate the area of the brain responsible for the specific arm muscles. Participants imagining exercise not only developed stronger arms but also created stronger neuromuscular pathways. They built a stronger brain in the process.

Wow. Intensely imagine exercise for just 11 minutes a day. I could do that in my sleep. This is a game changer on so many fronts. I can actually work out (mentally) while sitting at my desk. I can feel my core muscles rippling even as I write. Somethings rippling, anyway. Could be the burrito I had for breakfast this morning. But it may just be my muscles strengthening under the grueling mental workout I am putting them through. Of course, processing that damn burrito may be challenging enough. But I digress…..

This study is also a boon for the guy whose ideal weekend includes nothing but laying on the couch, drinking beer and watching football on TV. As his wife reminds him of all the productive things he could be doing, he can merely put his finger to his lips and say, “Shhhhh. I am working out, and I’m in the zone”. With science behind you, who could argue with that?

Unequivocally the biggest beneficiary of this study, however, will be the workers’ compensation industry. We can eliminate all therapy and work hardening services, and simply tell the injured workers to think about getting better. They could envision themselves getting stronger and picture their benefits ending, since we’ve helped them fully repair themselves and restore their ability to return to the job. As an added bonus, they will have stronger neuromuscular pathways as a result. Bigger, better, stronger – thinking your way to a healthier future. It is a Kumbaya moment if I’ve ever seen one.

In all seriousness, this research does lend additional credence to my ongoing effort to change the core mentality of workers' compensation. In a recent exchange with John Burton I wrote in “The Case for Workers' Recovery” of the impact of words and phrasing within workers' comp. This study shows that proper mental imaging can indeed help an injured person in the process of recovery. We continue to ignore the power of attitude and mental imaging at our own peril, when creating the proper environment and atmosphere of recovery can improve outcomes for all involved.

The old adage “Mind over matter” may be right after all. While we continue to explore other alternatives within our industry, we cannot forget that one of the most powerful tools at our disposal is not in fact “right in front of our noses”, but rather behind them. You think about that while I sit here and continue my relentless drive to mentally driven fitness. I am in “the zone” and bulking up. Working out has never been more attractive. After all, as they say – no brain, no gain.

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