To Your Health: Do the Olympics inspire us to live healthier?

runThere’s no doubt that the Olympics inspires future Olympians. The star athletes of each games are role models for young girls and boys everywhere who are just starting out in a sport, or who needed a little push to pick one up.

But what about the rest of us?

Do the Olympics give us a little health benefit, too? Do the games convince us that we need to start exercising regularly, eating right and going for the gold?

There’s not a lot of research around this.

One Canadian study showed that the Olympics triggers a short-lived increase in people pursuing fitness goals. The emphasis here is on short-lived. Once the games aren’t front and center, we go back to our couch potato ways.

Countries that host the Olympic Games often talk about the broader health benefits for the community.

But a review of studies conducted in the wake of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London concluded there’s “little evidence to support the notion that hosting an Olympic games leads to increased participation in physical or sporting activities for host countries.”

Before you turn off the TV set, though, consider this little gem: A study published last year in the journal Frontiers in Autonomic Neuroscience found that when we watch sports, we experience increased heart rates and other physiological measures that mimic working out.

Now, there is a caveat here: Study participants were shown first-person video – as if they were the ones doing the exercising.

And researchers stressed that while watching someone else working out will give you a little boost, it doesn’t replace physical activity.

“While watching other people exercise may increase your heart rate and have other physiological effects, nothing can replace the health benefits of getting off the couch,” lead researcher Vaughan Macefield, of the School of Medicine at the University of Western Sydney, told Discovery News.

So what’s the takeaway?

The Olympics is inspiring – and it can be inspiration enough for some of us to pick up our fitness goals. It might even give us a tiny workout when we watch.

But sticking with exercise and staying off that couch doesn’t depend on whether you watched the Olympics. It depends on you.

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