A conscious effort to exercise and stay active is a key to good health and weight control. But unintentional activity—that is, ordinary daily movement—is also important. Why do some of us move around more than others? Genetics, age, weight, occupation and overall health all influence our activity level.
Unconscious attitudes about activity may play a role, too, according to a 2010 study from Penn State University. It found that students who had positive unconscious attitudes about physical activity (as measured by psychological testing) were more active over the course of a week (as measured by a pedometer). Apparently, this attitude also increased their incidental activities, such as using stairs instead of the elevator, taking the first available parking spot rather than hunting for one closer to their destination, or just moving around more. For the pro-activity students, physical activity was just more of a habit.
Changing attitudes and habits is hard. Most of us assume it’s natural to prefer labor-saving options and to yield to inertia. But as the researchers suggested, from an evolutionary point of view, a pro-activity tendency was a survival advantage for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. And it is for us as well.