Exercise. It’s something we all know is crucial for our health. But what makes some of us excited to hop out of bed and go for a run or pump some iron while some of us struggle to find the motivation to squeeze in even a few minutes of physical activity? Is it genetics? Sheer willpower and discipline?
As it turns out, the secret might just be something you’d never expect. Those people that exercise religiously and seem to have a never-ending supply of motivation might just be getting a little help from the bacteria in their gut microbiome.
Today we’re going to explore what your gut microbiome is, how this delicate ecosystem is connected to your brain, and how on earth the tiny microbes in your gut may impact your motivation to exercise. Let’s dive in.
Motivation Defined: What Makes People Motivated to Exercise?
By definition, motivation is the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. So what on earth makes some people so motivated and downright excited to exercise while others consider working out a dreaded chore? It all comes down to neurochemical changes in your brain via a process that goes something like this:1
- Your brain contains a critical node or region known as the ventral striatum – which has also been dubbed the brains “motivation center”
- Brain cells (more officially known as neurons) contained within the striatum are activated by the neurotransmitter called dopamine
- Dopamine is a feel-good hormone that, when released, gives you a flood of positive, pleasurable, and rewarding emotions
- The more dopamine released, the more the striatum is stimulated with feel-good dopamine, and subsequently, the more motivated you feel to repeat an action
This dopamine pathway is one of the most pivotal factors that determines how you feel about exercising. An extra boost of dopamine during exercise will boost your performance and reinforce your desire to work out. But that still doesn’t answer the question of why some people love to exercise while others don’t.
As it turns out, the answer to that question might just lie in what’s known as your microbiome.
What Is Your Gut Microbiome and Why Is It Important?
Your digestive tract is inhabited by trillions of microscopic microorganisms that collectively make up your microbiome. While the thought of trillions of microbes taking up residence in your gut might seem strange at first, these tiny invaders actually play a pivotal role in your health.
This conglomeration of bacteria, fungi, and viruses make up a delicate ecosystem designed to work in harmony with your own cells to carry out all kinds of functions that keep you alive – with your gut microbiome influencing everything from your digestion to your metabolism and from your sleep to your immunity.2 And research has discovered that the makeup of your microbiome might be the secret to hacking your motivation around exercising.
But how exactly could your gut microbiome influence your ventral striatum and how motivated you feel around exercise? To answer that question, you must first understand what’s known as the gut-brain axis.
The Gut-Brain Axis: How Can Your Gut Affect Your Brain?
While your brain and your gut might seem like two entirely separate and disconnected organs at first glance, they are actually intricately linked. You see, hidden within the wall of your digestive tract are millions of nerve cells that make up what’s known as your enteric nervous system or ENS. This enteric nervous system within your gut is part of a complex communication system that’s connected to your brain, nervous system, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
This communication network allows for bidirectional communication between your brain and your gut – meaning these two organs can “talk” to each other and influence how the other is operating. They are able to send messages along this communication axis both physically through direct nerve impulses as well as biochemically. You see, both your brain and your gut produce neurotransmitters and other chemicals that are used as signaling molecules to communicate and influence one another.3
It’s via these communication channels that your gut microbiome is able to directly influence just how motivated you do or don’t feel to exercise.
So, How Does the Microbiome Influence Motivation to Exercise?
Remember those neurotransmitters and other chemicals that your gut and brain use as signaling molecules to communicate and influence one another? Your gut’s production of these chemicals is heavily impacted by the microbes that reside within your microbiome.
And research has found that the higher the amounts of several, specific strains of bacteria in your gut, the more dopamine your brain produces, and the more reward you get when engaging in physical activity. There are certain strains of bacteria (like Eubacterium rectale and Coprococcus eutactus) that produce metabolites known as fatty acid amides or FAAs.
When secreted, these FAAs activate a receptor on sensory neurons called cannabinoid receptor-1 which subsequently elevates dopamine levels in the ventral striatum during exercise. And the more dopamine that’s released during exercise, the more desire and motivation you have to engage in physical activity again.4,5,6
So, Is the Microbiome Really the Secret to Hacking Your Motivation to Exercise?
The answer to this question is – maybe in part. The more we learn about our gut microbiome, the more we realize just how dependent we are on the microscopic communities that inhabit our bodies. So intentionally supporting and optimizing your gut microbiome can without a doubt help you feel, look, and perform better – and may even make you more apt to hit the gym or squeeze in a sweat session.
So how can you best support and optimize your gut health and microbiome? Here’s what I recommend:
Follow a Gut Supporting Diet:
You don’t need to follow some strict, restrictive diet to keep your gut happy. Simply focus on building most of your meals around whole, anti-inflammatory foods like fresh fruits and veggies, quality protein, and healthy fats. And try minimizing your intake of processed foods, refined oils, and added sugars.
If you need some help mixing it up in the kitchen, be sure to head over and check out my recipe library.
Incorporate Gut-Boosting Supplements:
Your diet is the foundation of gut health, but supplements can help fill in any nutritional gaps and amplify your results. Some of my favorite gut-boosting supplements include:
- Probiotics to reinoculate your microbiome with beneficial bacteria
- Prebiotics to ensure those beneficial bacteria have plenty of fuel
- Collagen to bolster the integrity of your gut barrier lining
- Digestive enzymes to help your gut and gut microbes break down and absorb nutrients
- Essential Fiber to promote regular and healthy bowel movements
- Glutathione and Vitamin C to fight gut inflammation by giving you a concentrated dose of antioxidants
You can find all of these gut-supporting supplements and more at my online store. And you can even snag 10% off your first order by clicking right here.
Focus on Your Mental and Emotional Health
Your gut-brain axis is a two-way street – meaning your mental and emotional health majorly impacts your gut health. So be sure to make your mental and emotional well-being a priority by:
- Incorporating things like meditation, yoga, and/or spending some quiet time outdoors each day to quiet your mind and relieve stress
- Making time for fun, relaxation, and connecting with loved ones
- Managing stress with a good workout, chatting with a trusted friend, or whatever outlet works best for you
- Ensuring you’re getting plenty of quality sleep
If you truly want to support a happy healthy gut, you can’t afford to ignore your mental and emotional health.
Ready to Take Your Health to the Next Level?
Taking steps to create a happy, healthy gut and a diverse, flourishing microbiome can absolutely help you pave the way to better health and improved motivation. But the truth is, there’s no singular “hack” that’s going to transform your health.
Creating vibrant health, physical fitness and endurance, happiness, and overall well-being require lots and lots of tiny daily choices that add up in a big way. And while tweaking your microbiome is 100% a piece of that puzzle, it’s exactly that – just a piece. True health and healing come from putting all the “pieces of the puzzle” together – physically, mentally, emotionally, environmentally, and so on.
If you want some help figuring out how to put those puzzle pieces together in your own life, I’ve got you covered. Head over and browse through my blog and YouTube Channel to access hundreds of free resources chock-full of science-backed information to help you take your health to the next level. And if you want to take it even deeper, and learn the exact steps I used to heal my body, mind, and soul through Functional Medicine, science, and a whole lot of faith, I encourage you to pick up a copy of my new book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn that your microbiome can actually impact just how motivated you do or don't feel to exercise? What tips and tricks have helped you feel more motivated to work out? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Gut microbes may affect motivation to exercise | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Introduction to the human gut microbiota – PMC (nih.gov)
- The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems – PMC (nih.gov)
- A microbiome-dependent gut–brain pathway regulates motivation for exercise | Nature
- Gut microbes may affect motivation to exercise | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Gut Microbes Can Boost the Motivation to Exercise (pennmedicine.org)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.