Zapping brains could make exercise more effortless, study says


In the future, humans may be able to make their workouts easier by zapping their own brains.

It sounds far-fetched, but a recent study from the University of Kent suggests that electrifying the brain with a mild electrical current can seriously improve performance among healthy people riding exercise bikes, all while making their workouts feel more effortless.

The method is called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. It’s a non-invasive procedure in which scientists stick two electrodes on a wire to the human head, then the electrodes apply a low current that helps stimulate parts of the brain. According to John Hopkins Medicine, it feels a bit like a tickle or an itch on the scalp. The method is used in some treatments for depression, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain and anxiety.

“More recently, there has been great interest in the use of tDCS to enhance sport performance,” according to the study.

Scientists applied real currents along with placebo currents to a group of 12 participants between the ages of 18 and 44 over the course of three separate, 10-minute sessions. They found that applying tDCs to cyclers had a “positive effect on endurance performance” along with “a lower perception of effort during cycling exercise.”

This doesn’t mean fitness centers across the United States will soon have electrodes strung to their exercise bikes, but perhaps it’s useful intel for the future of sports.

“The findings are expected to advance our understanding of the brain’s role in endurance exercise, how it can alter the physical limits of performance in healthy people and add further evidence to the debate on the use of legal methods to enhance performance in competition,” according to a press release.