A provocative paper from a University of Kent exercise expert advocates the use of psychoactive drugs to help “lazy people” exercise.
Some describe the strategy as “doping for lazy people” although a closer inspection of the argument finds the suggestion may not be far-fetched.
Professor Samuele Marcora believes that together with lack of time, physical exertion is one of the main perceived barriers to exercise. He says this is not surprising because humans evolved to be “lazy”, i.e. to conserve energy.
As such, he suggests that reducing perception of effort during exercise using caffeine or other psychoactive drugs (e.g. methylphenidate and modafinil) could help many people stick to their fitness plans.
Whilst acknowledging that such an intervention is both drastic and controversial, Professor Marcora points out that perception of effort is one of the main reasons why most people choose sedentary activities for their leisure time.
Compared to watching television (zero effort), even moderate-intensity physical activities like walking require considerable effort. He says finding a way that makes people with very low motivation to do even moderate exercise, like walking, could be particularly useful.
Similarly, a reduction in perception of effort would be very helpful to the many people who find exercise difficult because they are overweight and/or exercise after work in a state of mental fatigue.
Marcora comments that while there is no strong ethical opposition to the use of psychoactive drugs to help quit smoking (nicotine) or treat obesity (appetite suppressants), the negative perception of doping in sport may prevent the use of stimulants and other psychoactive drugs to treat physical inactivity.
Given that physical inactivity is responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity, he hopes that psychopharmacological treatment for physical inactivity will be considered fairly and seriously rather than immediately rejected on the basis of unrelated ethical considerations about doping in sport.
Marcora’s paper, “Can Doping be a Good Thing? Using Psychoactive Drugs to Facilitate Physical Activity Behavior,” has been published in the journal Sports Medicine.