If you think about exercise regularly you could be getting the workout you need, without picking up even a single weight.  A new study suggests that just imagining you are exercising can have the same effect as actually going to the gym.

The study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology found that simple imagining of exercise could tone muscle, delay atrophy, and even make your muscles stronger.  Researchers at Ohio University used two sets of "healthy individuals" for their tests.

The researchers wrapped the wrists of one of the sets in a cast and gave them instructions to sit still for 11 minutes, five days a week, for four weeks, and "perform mental imagery of strong muscle contractions," or simply imagine exercising.  The other set was not given any instruction at all. 

The results illustrated the link between the body and mind, showing it was even stronger than originally thought.  At the end of the four weeks, the participants who engaged in the "mental exercise" were twice as strong as those who hadn't.  And the participants who did the mental exercises also showed stronger neuromuscular pathways in the brain.

The University's study is the first to prove that imagination can delay or help stop muscle atrophy.  "What our study suggests is that imagery exercises could be a valuable tool to prevent or slow muscles from becoming weaker when a health problem limits or restricts a person's mobility," Brian Clark, a professor of physiology and neuroscience at the college said in a written statement.

These new developments could lead to imagination being used to help people undergoing neurorehabilitation, and could even control the effects of aging.   In the release, Clark described muscles as the puppets of the nervous system moved by the brain that acts as the string.  If you make the brain pull the strings even in your imagination, your muscles will respond.

"This information may fundamentally change how we think about muscle weakness in the elderly," Clark says.  Indeed this new research can easily be used to help prevent muscle atrophy in the weak and elderly, as imagination exercises can be put in place as a part of therapy to increase strength and much more. 

While this form of mental exercise can never fully replace the efficacy of traditional physical exertion, imagination therapy used in conjunction with regular exercise could stimulate the muscles even further, and allow even more strength and healing in patients.