Could it be that some of us inherited a natural, in-built love of exercise from our parents, while others were born hardwired to loathe it?
Here’s something a member of a fitness group I host on Facebook posted earlier this week:
Does anyone else struggle with motivation and enjoying exercise? I continually see posts from people here saying how good they feel and how much they’re enjoying it … I’m loving the results but, I don’t enjoy it, I never get that buzz that I hear people talk of from exercise. … Anyone else felt this and eventually got the buzz?
A few members of the group helpfully pointed out that no one enjoys every workout they do, but the most encouraging comments were those from people who said they previously loathed exercise but had now come to love it.
I also reassured her that it’s certainly possible to learn to enjoy exercise, even if you never have before. I’ve watched it happen to many clients and even experienced it myself (I hated P.E. at school almost to the point of it becoming a phobia).
Of course, all this is purely anecdotal.
But the very next day I came across a study, published in The Journal of Physiology, investigating whether our levels of enjoyment of exercise are hardwired in our genes.
After monitoring activity levels in a group of rats, researchers at the University of Missouri bred pairs that had voluntarily spent the most time running on the wheels in their cages and they also bred pairs which ran the least. They then compared the amount of time the two sets of offspring spent running.
The rats with active parents were found to be far more likely to exercise. When the scientists looked at what was going on in the rats’ brains they found that for the energetic rats exercise was more likely to light up the Nucleus Accumbens—the part of the brain associated with enjoyment. Meanwhile, when the rats born of non-running parents ran, there was little brain activity in this area – indicating that they didn’t enjoy running.
So, does this indicate that maybe some of us have enjoyment of exercise in our genes while others don’t?
But the experiment didn’t end there. For a period of six days the rats with the non-running lineage were placed on their wheels and encouraged to run (who knew rats could have personal trainers too?). Although they covered less distance than the enthusiastic born-to-run rats, something different started to happen in their brains – more activity began to show in that nucleus accombens “enjoyment and reward” zone.
Could it be that the rats were beginning learn to love exercise in just the way myself and my clients have experienced?
The leader of the study, Frank Booth, Ph.D., is a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. When he spoke to the New York Times he was keen to point out that it is “impossible to know at this point,” how relevant these findings could be to us humans.
But whatever their gene inheritance, “people can decide to exercise,” Booth said.
Personally, I couldn’t agree more. Whether or not our parents liked to exercise and whether or not we ourselves have liked it in the past, we can decide to simply get on and do it anyway.
For a long time I’ve been advising people not to wait for motivation to exercise. As I’ve always said, you need to exercise first and then the motivation will come.
If you’re from a family of non-exercisers I want you to know that with effort and consistency it is possible to defy your destiny and discover a love of being physically active. I hope that sometime soon you’ll join me in discovering how incredibly rewarding moving your body can be. How about starting today?