Exercise is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but few of us like to spend the time and energy to incorporate it into our routine. We are often told to “do it”, but what really motivates us? Recent research suggests that the answer may lie in your gut: the microbes residing there could influence your motivation for physical activity! Read on to learn more about how these organisms can affect our habits and what you can do to support them.
Microbes and neurotransmitters.
A recent study by Christoph Thaiss and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania found that certain microbes in mice can produce endocannabinoids, the body’s own version of cannabis. The endocannabinoid system is an incredibly complex cellular signaling mechanism that participates, among other things, in energy balance. It also increases dopamine levels in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum during exercise, which increases the mouse’s propensity to exercise as well as its performance.
Germ-free mice raised in a sterile environment do not exercise as long or as well as normal mice with germs, and when antibiotics are given to kill gut microbes, the effect of exercise wears off. The researchers concluded that the microbiota influences the rewarding properties of exercise, such as runner’s high. Since microbes are different for each animal, this also explains at least part of the individual variability in performance.
The researchers said: “If applicable to humans, our results imply that [substances chimiques] that boost motivation to exercise could be a powerful opportunity to counter the adverse health effects of a sedentary lifestyle. »
And the man?
Not all mouse studies are relevant to humans, but mice and humans have a similar endocannabinoid system connected to the ventral striatum. We also know the link between exercise, germs and metabolism. In a brilliant, if disreputable, experiment, Chun-Ying Wu and colleagues at the Veterans General Hospital in Taichung, Taiwan, showed that metabolic profiles of sports mice could be transferred to mice in overweight on a high-fat diet.
How to transfer a microbiota? By a fecal transplant. This is nothing to worry about for a mouse, since they eat other people’s droppings all the time. But it’s remarkable that a fat, sedentary mouse could benefit from a supercharged metabolism from the feces of a champion runner. This demonstrates that the effect is not only correlational, but causal. Recipients of these fecal transplants lose weight, gain strength and are more motivated to exercise.
What to do ?
What can we do to encourage ourselves to stop hogging the couch? Besides endocannabinoids and dopamine, GABA is another neurotransmitter that plays a role in our health, by reducing pain and anxiety, factors that make us less inclined to exercise. Certain species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria produce GABA, and they are easily found in fermented foods like yogurt. Introducing ferments into our diet can therefore give us a little nudge in the right direction.
Besides the fact that microbes influence our motivation to exercise, we know that exercise can improve our microbiota and therefore our mood. This circularity of the microbiota is not uncommon, and it provides us with another lever to control our exercise regimens.
If we can break the will of our recalcitrant gut microbes and use the treadmill for something other than hanging out clothes, we will quickly reap the rewards. Exercise reduces levels of disease-causing bacteria and increases their overall diversity – a good thing.
Thus, a better diet helps to build a better microbiota which can help us to strengthen our motivation to exercise. And then, once we start exercising, we can further enhance that microbiota in a virtuous cycle. Here’s a simple way to break the curse of the couch squat and put us on the path to better health and a happier mood.