“I will exercise more this New Year” – easier said than done?

Some of us lack the biological process that help us stay motivated for a good workout

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Our motivation to exercise may have physiological roots

According to as Ipsos survey published on 31 December, the French will “take up a sport” as a top New Year resolution for 2013. Many of us leading a urban life would have similar New Year resolutions. But as with resolutions, this one may also be hard to keep.

Francis Chaouloff, research director at Inserm’s NeuroCentre Magendie [Inserm Joint Research Unit 862, Université Bordeaux Ségalen], Sarah Dubreucq, a PhD student and François Georges, a CNRS research leader at the Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience (CNRS/Université Bordeaux Ségalen) have studied the biological factors that enhance or reduce motivation for exercise.

This study reveals that the endocannabinoid system plays a major role in physical exercise performance because of its impact on motivational processes.

The endogenous cannabinoid system, named after the plant cannabis, is one of key physiological system required for maintaining good health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are present throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. The goal is of this system is homoeostasis, keeping the body internally stable in spite of fluctuations in the environment.

The researchers were able to pinpoint the role of a particular protien [ the CB1 cannabinoid receptor] in the reward mechanism of physical exercise. They also identified how a person who is exercising does get fatigued and does not find motivation to continue and how this protein in a way neutralises this "brake" and allows for a good physical performance. Those without the biology of this "brake inhibition" were likely to be less effective [20 – 30 percent ] in their motivation to exercise.

“The inability to experience pleasure during physical activity, which is often quoted as one explanation why people partially or completely drop out of physical exercise programmes, is a clear sign that the biology of the nervous system is involved”, explains Chaouloff.

This study opens up new possibilities of research into the mediators of pleasure in performing physical exercise. “After endorphins, we now need to consider endocannabinoids as another potential mediator of the positive effects that physical exercise has on our mood,” the researchers conclude

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