We all know that exercise is good for things like heart function, muscle building, and maintaining a healthy body weight.
But working out is also linked to gut health, as regular exercisers have completely different gut microbiomes than couch potatoes—and new research shows that microbes may even be able to change how motivated we are to work out.
Gut Check: Moderate Exercise Maintains Microbiome Health
Recent research shows that exercise enhances the number of beneficial gut microbes and enriches bacterial diversity.
Duration of exercise proves to be the most important association with microbiome health, as the largest gut bacterial gains were seen in those who moderately exercised for 150-500 minutes per week.
(Cue mental image of your trillions of gut bacteria running their—non-existent—hearts out on microscopic treadmills.)
Although runners may disagree about the merits of exercise on digestion, this research suggests that moderate activity (just 21 minutes per day on the low end) benefits our guts.
Dopamine Hit: Gut Microbes Alter Motivation to Exercise
Not only is exercise linked to healthier microbiomes, but researchers have also found that the presence of certain microbes in your gut can even increase your desire and motivation to move.
Yep, thats right—motivation isn’t only wrecked by scrolling social media for hours or saying, “Yes, Netflix, I’m still watching.”
Motivation to exercise can actually be influenced by compounds produced by gut microbes that stimulate dopamine-sensing neurons—the neurotransmitter related to motivation and reward.
In this study, researchers measured how long mice would run on a treadmill, finding that their gut microbiomes were better predictors of their marathon times than any genetic, metabolic, or behavioral traits.
When mice got their microbiomes wiped out with antibiotics, they called it quits on the treadmill much earlier than they had previously.
Activating dopamine-signaling sensory neurons in the microbe-less mice restored their desire to run—and they found out that gut microbes were controlling these links by producing compounds called fatty acid amides (FAAs).
Supplementing the diets of microbiome-depleted mice with FAAs restored their exercise capacity and desire, putting Forrest Gump to shame.
Although this research was with mice, the researchers are hopeful that a similar pathway (and supplement) could work in humans to boost their desire to exercise.
If this does happen, that supplement release date could see gym memberships skyrocket higher than they do on January 2nd!