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Great news: just thinking about exercise can make you stronger

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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Lately, our evenings have been following the same pattern. We arrive home from work and settle into our usual imprint on the sofa, dinner in one hand and glass of wine in the other, ready to watch the Olympics.

We marvel at the incredible athletic feats of the competitors and promise ourselves that tomorrow will be the day we start fitting some exercise into our daily routine - but something else always comes up.

And if this sounds familiar, fear not: the simple act of thinking about exercise can be enough to make you stronger, according to our new favourite scientist.

The Olympics has inspired us to exercise (pictured: Simone Biles)

The Olympics has inspired us to exercise (pictured: Simone Biles)

Writing in Nautilus, Jim Davis, professor of cognitive psychology at Canada's Carleton University, made a compelling case for the benefits of thinking about physical exercise.

According to Davis, this centres around proprioception, which is our sense for understanding the location of our body parts and knowing when they are moving. For example, proprioception is the reason you can move your hand to your head to brush your hair.

And just activating the brain areas that use proprioception can be enough to give you physical benefits. In 2014, researchers asked people whose arms were in a cast to imagine flexing their wrists and, when the casts were removed, these muscle areas were stronger than for those who hadn't imagined flexing them.

Just thinking about this could make you stronger...

Just thinking about this could make you stronger...

“Mental practice is one of the few effective performance-enhancing activities,” Davis wrote. “One study, by Rutgers psychologist Robert Woolfolk, and colleagues, had people simply imagine putting a golf ball into the hole before they took their shot. The people who imagined making it had 30.4 percent more successful putts than those who did not.”

While it is recommended that you still try and squeeze some physical activity into your daily routine, the power of thought is clearly not without its benefits.

"By just using our imagination, we can improve ourselves for real," Davis added.

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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