Need more exercise motivation? It may not be in your brain, but instead, lie within your gut!!
A recent study discovered a surprising connection between the gut microbiome and motivation to exercise. The study, led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, published in the journal Nature, aimed to shed light on the mechanisms behind exercise performance in mice.
Exercise is a key component of a healthy lifestyle, offering protection against various diseases and promoting overall well-being. However, the factors that influence an individual's motivation to exercise remain largely elusive. That’s where the researchers turned to mice, because mice offer the opportunity to simulate different gut environments and see how they influence behavior.
In this blog post, we will explore the findings of this study and discuss the potential implications for human exercise motivation. Additionally, I will provide 6 diet tips to support your exercise motivation, including cutting out one sneaky ingredient to prevent the proliferation of harmful gut bacteria that can dampen your drive to stay active.
The Role of the Gut Microbiome
Now back to the study. The researchers conducted experiments to measure exercise performance in mice, specifically focusing on their endurance on a treadmill and desire to voluntarily run on a wheel.
Surprisingly, the composition of the gut microbiome—the diverse community of microorganisms residing in the gut—proved to be a better predictor of exercise performance than genetic, metabolic, or behavioral traits.
When the researchers administered antibiotics to eliminate the gut microbes, they observed a decrease in exercise capacity. This finding strongly suggested a connection between the gut microbiome and exercise motivation.
The Gut-Brain Connection: D is for Motivation
Dopamine is the prime neurotransmitter of our desire to do things. It plays a particularly important role in one specific region in the brain ⸺ the striatum. Motivation is regulated, in part, by this region of the brain, where neurons respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine, providing a sense of reward.
The research team discovered that dopamine levels in the striatum increased after exercise in normal mice but not in microbiome-depleted mice. To further delineate the role of dopamine in exercise, the researchers look at the effects of blocking the dopamine signal on exercise motivation.
When the researchers blocked dopamine signaling with a drug, the mice exhibited reduced exercise capacity similar to that observed in microbiome-depleted mice (remember, the mice that were given an antibiotic to deplete their good gut bugs).
Conversely, when they administered a drug that activated dopamine signaling, the exercise capacity of microbiome-depleted mice was restored. Aha! This is an important step in a study like this to zero in on the exact pathway, showing that a drug that can activate the same receptors as dopamine also had an effects on exercise capacity and motivation.
The Gut Enteric Nervous System ⸺ Our Secret Supercomputer
Further investigation revealed that activating specific sensory neurons in the gut could restore exercise capacity in microbiome-depleted mice. Again, showing that the signal in the brain that controls exercise motivation could originate in the gut.
However, when dopamine signaling was blocked, the effect of these neurons was also hindered.
To confirm the role of these sensory neurons, the researchers studied mice genetically engineered to lack them. Interestingly, these mice exhibited impaired exercise capacity similar to that observed in microbiome-depleted mice.
Are you getting the picture here? We think our brain is in charge, but it seems that in many pathways, the enteric nervous system (ENS) is actually the one in charge of our behavior.
You see why gut health is so important? Our gut IS the supercomputer controlling our body and brain.
How Gut Microbes Speak To Our Brains
In their quest to identify the compounds produced by gut microbes that stimulate gut sensory neurons, the researchers discovered a class of compounds called fatty acid amides (FAAs).
Supplementation of FAAs in the diets of microbiome-depleted mice successfully restored their exercise capacity. Notably, several FAAs are known to activate a receptor called cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) on sensory neurons. Basically, they discovered another complementary pathway that influences exercise capacity and motivation in these mice.
Blocking CB1 had a similar effect on exercise as microbiome depletion (i.e. it reduced exercise capacity), while activating dopamine receptors restored exercise capacity even when CB1 was blocked. Ok, so… the dopamine pathway overrides the CB1 pathway, even when CB1 was blocked or FAA production was reduced.
Unleashing Your Exercise Motivation
As you get ready to kick off the 2024 New Year and find your new motivation to exercise and get fit, maybe it’s time to stop looking at the number on your scale, and instead, turn your head downwards and look at what’s happening inside your gut.
These findings suggest that FAAs produced by the gut microbiome stimulate sensory neurons in the gut that support exercise capacity and motivation. Signals from these neurons subsequently lead to increased dopamine levels in the striatum during exercise, ultimately enhancing the desire for physical activity.
The mice study indicates that the motivation to exercise may be intricately linked to the state of the gut microbiome. By stimulating this sensory pathway through a happy gut diet and The GutSMART Protocol, it may be possible to enhance your exercise motivation. Applying these same measures to the global population can subsequently improve public health by supporting the proliferation of good gut bugs that produce these important signaling molecules referred to as FAA’s.
Tips for Boosting Exercise Motivation
While further research is needed to fully understand the impact of the gut microbiome on exercise motivation in humans, here are 6 diet tips to potentially support your drive to exercise:
1. Prioritize a Diverse and Fiber-Rich Diet
Making a conscious effort to include an array of fiber-rich foods in your daily meals can significantly contribute to nurturing a healthy gut environment.
Incorporating diverse sources, such as whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and millet, alongside an assortment of fruits like berries, apples, and oranges, as well as an array of vegetables spanning leafy greens, broccoli, jerusalem artichoke, garlic and leaks, aids in providing the necessary dietary fiber crucial for gut health.
Moreover, integrating legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans (read this blog post to learn how to do it best), along with nuts like almonds, walnuts, and ground seeds, such as chia and flax seeds, amplifies the fiber content in your diet.
This varied selection of fiber-rich foods not only fosters a thriving gut, but also supports overall well-being by promoting greater immunoregulation.
2. Incorporate Prebiotic Foods
In addition to a diverse and fiber-rich diet, incorporating prebiotic foods into your meals can be highly beneficial. Prebiotics act as fuel for the good bacteria in your gut, helping them thrive and support your overall gut health.
Foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, and oats are excellent sources of prebiotics. Including these in your daily meals can over time potentially enhance the diversity and health of your gut microbiome, contributing to improved exercise motivation.
3. Hydrate with Water and Herbal Teas
Maintaining proper hydration is key for a healthy gut. Drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day aids in digestion and ensures the proper functioning of your gut.
Additionally, herbal teas like peppermint, fennel or ginger tea can offer digestive benefits for gut health. Peppermint tea has soothing properties that may alleviate digestive discomfort and bloating, while fennel and ginger teas possess anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits.
4. Consume Fermented Foods
Including fermented foods in your diet can introduce beneficial probiotics that promote a balanced gut microbiome. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha are rich in probiotics that support gut health.
According to a study done at Stanford University, a fiber-rich diet promotes a more diverse gut microbiome (an important element of good gut and overall health) and lowers 19 inflammatory markers. These foods improve the diversity and balance of your gut microbiome, fostering an environment that influences exercise motivation positively.
5. Cut out this sneaky ingredient that’s disrupting your gut microbiome
Limit your intake of sugar, sugary drinks, processed foods, and excessive amounts of added sugar.
Sugar can disrupt the gut microbiome by feeding harmful bacteria and reducing the population of beneficial bacteria. This imbalance can lead to inflammation and a decrease in dopamine levels, both of which can dampen your motivation to exercise.
Sugary drinks are a major source of added sugar in the diet. This includes fruit juices and premade fruit smoothies that often have more sugar than a can of soda!
Instead of sugary drinks, choose water, unsweetened tea, or unsweetened coffee. When choosing processed foods, read the labels carefully and choose products with lower sugar content.
And finally, avoid adding excessive amounts of sugar to your food and drinks. Instead, try using spices, herbs, or natural sweeteners like honey, fruits or allulose. We’ll talk more about allulose in a future post…
6. Manage Stress Levels and Prioritize Adequate Sleep
Chronic stress can negatively impact your gut microbiome and reduce motivation for exercise. Prioritize stress-management techniques like yoga, meditation, breathwork or spending time in nature to promote a healthy gut-brain connection / gut-brain axis.
Adequate sleep is also crucial for overall health, including gut health and exercise motivation. Aim for 7 - 8 hours of quality sleep each night to allow your body to rest, repair, and regulate hormone production. Overnight rest, combined with fasting, is an important component of maintaining a healthy gut lining and microbiome to promote better overall well-being and motivation to exercise.
Remember, like most things we talk about in Happy Gut Life, exercise motivation may actually start in your gut. Take care of your gut, and your gut will take care of you.
If you're looking for a natural way to boost your gut health and exercise motivation, Restore Probiotic may be the perfect solution for you. This unique probiotic formula contains a blend of beneficial bacteria that has been shown to support a healthy gut microbiome and help you feel your best.
Here are just a few of the benefits of Restore Probiotic:
- Improves digestion and gut health
- Increases dopamine levels, which can boost motivation
- Reduces inflammation
- Supports overall well-being
Give your gut the support it needs to thrive with Restore Probiotic. This powerful probiotic formula can help you feel your best, both physically and mentally.