No Motivation to Exercise? Your Brain Might Be Responsible

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Having a healthy exercise habit is considered to be essential, as it keeps you fit and helps maintain a healthy heart. But for many, exercising is a chore that they simply cannot find the motivation to do. If you have a rough time getting yourself to exercise, then know that scientists have recently discovered that your brain might be at fault!

According to researchers from Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience, a specific area of the brain could be responsible for a person’s motivation to exercise. The area in question is the dorsal medial habenula, a tiny region of the brain that functions in mood regulation and motivation.

“Changes in physical activity and the inability to enjoy rewarding or pleasurable experiences are two hallmarks of major depression,” said Dr. Eric Turner, the principal investigator in Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Integrative Brain Research, in a statement. “But the brain pathways responsible for exercise motivation have not been well understood. Now, we can seek ways to manipulate activity within this specific area of the brain without impacting the rest of the brain’s activity.”
According to Dr. Turner and lead author Dr. Yun-Wei (Toni) Hsu, the findings of this study are crucial because exercising plays an important role in treating depression. Specifically, exercise is considered to the be most effective non-pharmacological treatments for depression and being able to single out why the dorsal medial habenula hinders our motivation for exercise could be beneficial for depression patients.

The study, titled “Role of the Dorsal Medial Habenula in the Regulation of Voluntary Activity, Motor Function, Hedonic State, and Primary Reinforcement,” was conducted on mice, who also have a dorsal medial habenula that controls their motivation to exercise. By genetically engineering mice, the researchers were able to see the effects of blocking signals from the dorsal medial habenula in mice.

“Without a functioning dorsal medial habenula, the mice became couch potatoes,” Turner said. “They were physically capable of running but appeared unmotivated to do it.”

In a secondary study, the scientists used laser technology called optogenetics to activate the dorsal medial habenula. The mice, who were able to activate the region of the brain by turning a wheel with their paws, “strongly preferred” turning the wheel that activated the dorsal medial habenula. This suggests to the researchers that the area of the brain is linked to rewarding behavior.

In a previous study, published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, scientists found that the dorsal medial habenula helps animals survive by allowing them to make the best choices in the rewards-and-dangers world. The region controls the brain’s reward center by inhibiting the dopamine-releasing neurons when an animal does not get a reward. “By inhibiting dopamine-releasing neurons, habenula activation leads to the suppression of motor behaviour when an animal fails to obtain a reward or anticipates an aversive outcome,” write the authors of the 2010 study.

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