Friday, March 14, 2014

Can dreaming about exercising lead to weight loss?

I was about to write one of my infrequent but famous spoof articles, and the subject was going to be losing weight by dreaming about exercising. For fun, I decided to search the Internet to see if anyone else might have had the same notion. To my surprise, they had. Here's what I discovered.

To be able to exercise while asleep, one must be able to have a so-called "lucid dream," which is described as being aware that one is dreaming while dreaming. According to a paper by Daniel Erlacher, 51% of 919 Germans who were questioned said they had experienced at least one lucid dream.

Apparently some lucid dreamers can also control the content of their dreams.

In the Harvard Business Review, Erlacher says, "In one experiment we asked participants to dream about doing deep knee bends. Even though their bodies weren’t moving, their heart and respiration rates increased slightly as if they were exercising."

We need to find a group of overweight people who are also lucid dreamers. Finding the former should be easy. If there aren't enough of the latter, subjects can be taught how to have lucid dreams in only 16 simple steps.

After explaining what a triathlon is, we tell them to dream about doing one every night for the next, say, 10 years. Would that work?

Probably not. A more scientific discussion of whether calories are actually burned while dreaming appeared in a blog called "The Naked Scientists." Someone asked whether running in a dream burned calories. They explained that while brain metabolic activity increases and a few calories are expended while dreaming, they doubt that there would be any meaningful effects on fitness levels or weight loss. Unless sleepwalking occurred, one of them said, with tongue-in-cheek.

I think the dream scenario is too complicated anyway.

Here's another potential solution.

An article on CNET is headlined "You could lose weight while your avatar exercises." Although that sounds like an exercise program that most couch potatoes could embrace, the study it refers to didn't exactly show what the headline said.

What it did show was that 8 women were recruited to watch animated avatars that they created exercise and eat reasonable portions of food. The women then "set their own weight loss and exercise goals, tracked their progress using some old-fashioned food and exercise logs" and lost an average of 3.5 lbs. over a 1-month period. Whether that weight loss continued for more months or was even maintained was not stated.

So do these shortcuts to weight loss really work? It's doubtful.

Dreaming about exercising or watching your avatar exercise probably isn't going to do it. I'm afraid you're just going to have to eat fewer calories than you burn.


artiger said...

Scalpel, do you have any grandchildren that are about the same age as my daughter (she's 8)? If so, have you seen the movie "WALL-E"? That's the first thing that came to my mind here.

Kerri said...

I feel like these dreams may have the same effects as meditation would. Meditation is good for people to think about things such as being successful, happy, reaching their goals, etc. One would have to think dreams would do something similar if they were positive like the ones described in the study.

I do agree that it may just be a extra "helper" with weight loss but the only true way to lose weight and keep it off is through healthy eating and exercise.

Thanks for the interesting article!

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Artiger, I have a 7 year old granddaughter. Agree.

Kerri, I agree that positive thinking may help and eat less and exercise more is the way to go.

Les said...

Maybe lucid dreaming could encourage someone to keep exercising. It's been too cold and icy to do much cycling this winter but I've been dreaming more about cycling. I've also lost a couple of pounds but that's probably just water.... Still it's an interesting idea.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I say go for it. Forgive me if I seem a little "skeptical" though.

Anonymous said...

Only here because I was seeing if I could find anything about blood sugar levels affected by very active dreams. I have type 2 diabetes and test regularly. After waking from a series of very intense dreams that I was running very fast for long periods I tested blood glucose level of 65 which is very unusual for me. A normal 'fasting' level for me is in the high eighties/low nineties. A 65 is very unusual for me. Other factors are that my carb and calorie intake the previous day were high and activity low. Nothing that I am aware of would account for a below normal BG level except maybe the running dreams.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Anon, thank you for commenting. It's an interesting story, but I think that you will have to repeat it a few times to convince me that your dream really lowered your blood sugar.

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