The Fight Against Inertia


Physics is the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. Coincidentally, people are made of matter and energy! So, I’m trying to draw a link between physics/energy and making changes in our lives, specifically in regard to health and wellness. But first, a science review…

Energy comes in two basic forms: potential and kinetic (meaning moving). All matter has potential energy, but how does this “potential” get converted into kinetic energy? I’m sure you’re familiar with Newton’s first law of motion: an object in motion will remain in motion, and an object at rest will remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. The “force” required to initiate movement is called “activation energy,” and the object’s resistance to change is called “intertia.”

How does that apply to how we make changes in our lives?

We are essentially objects, and as Newton described objects in general, we are resistant to change. The path of least resistance is appealing, not only consciously, but also unconsciously. Why get up at 5am to exercise, when the tempurpedic foam has perfectly molded to your body and has accepted you as one of its own?  And why eat more veggies, when you can get a whole box of tacos for less money than it takes to buy a gallon of gas? The truth is, we are affected by inertia. Even our bodies are resistant to change, evidenced by the muscle soreness that comes with starting a new exercise routine. With inertia affecting such small aspects of our lives, we can logically conclude that the effect of inertia is even greater when it comes to deeply entrenched habits!

How can we possibly change our deeply entrenched habits?

The answer from physics is activation energy. As beings that are obviously affected by the laws of physics, what activation energy do we need, for example, to start and maintain a healthy fitness regimen? The amount and type of necessary motivation varies from person to person. For example, some people can promptly break the mold of their tempurpedic foam and start their day with simply the intervention of an alarm clock. While others require a fire alarm or even a firing squad to force the separation! Another way of thinking of it is when you are trying to accelerate your vehicle up to 80mph from a dead stop. The engine revs, achieving higher RPMs before shifting gears, burning a greater amount of fuel, all to make the change from 0 to 80mph. But once you get going 80mph, RPMs reduce and fuel efficiency levels out. This is because the vehicle’s energy requirement to MAINTAIN that speed becomes much lower than the activation energy it took to GET TO cruising speed.

“That’s not what it’s like when I start a new exercise regimen!” some protest, “I can get started no problem, it’s the keeping going that I struggle with!” I still disagree. The laws of physics don’t change! What we are experiencing is simply inertia. Remember, once you get your car to 80mph, you can’t just let off the gas and expect to coast at the same speed! It requires less fuel to maintain than to get started, but it requires fuel nonetheless. It’s just the same with a health and wellness regimen. Yes, it takes more energy to start, but it still requires energy to continue.

I speculate, then, that we fail to recognize the continued need to fight inertia in our lives, and therefore we gradually come to a stop. For example, remember those New Years Resolutions you made 7 months ago? Did you stick to them? Did you achieve your goal? Or did you let off the gas, so to speak, and let yourself slow back down from 80 to 0 mph? I challenge you: be honest with yourself about why your New Years Resolution crashed and burned, find your activation energy and get back to it! No two people’s are alike, and only you can find your own motivation. But since it takes activation energy to convert your potential energy to kinetic energy, let’s start there!


Kate blog author The Fight Against InertiaABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Youngblood is a Physical Therapist Assistant specializing in functional mobility and strength. This blog is an extension of her writing promoting health and wellness in every aspect of life. Contact her through Facebook or join her clean recipe group by following the link below.

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