Is Motivation to Exercise a Matter of Genetics?

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Whether you laboriously drag yourself to the gym, or you anticipate your next workout with fervor, may be less about your mindset and more about your genetics. A recent study soon to be published in the Journal of Physiology found that rats which were bred for running had significantly more neural pathways and dopamine producing signals in reward-response to exercise than those rats which were bred for sedentary traits.

Gretchen Reynolds gives an excellent explanation in her article for The New York Times’ The Well, and points out one of the more hopeful parts of the study: rats which were bred for non-running which were also coerced into exercise began to change their neurology to be more like those rats which were bred for running. In summary, though some may be predisposed to “like” exercise,  everyone can learn to enjoy it.

In their first experiments with these rats, the researchers found some intriguing differences in the activity of certain genes in their brains. In normal circumstances, these genes create proteins that tell young cells to grow up and join the working world. But if the genes don’t function normally, the cells don’t receive the necessary chemical messages and remain in a prolonged, feckless cellular adolescence. Such immature cells cannot join the neural network and don’t contribute to healthy brain function."

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