Not Motivated To Exercise? Your Gut Could Be The Cause

If it's pouring outside, skipping a workout could be inviting. How about when it's a perfect day and you don't want to exercise? You know it will make you feel better after a great workout, but you'd rather sit on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Rather than hate yourself for not wanting to exercise, check your gut. According to a 2022 study in Nature, your gut might explain why you don't feel like getting out the door. The study found that certain gut metabolites stimulate dopamine, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. When you don't have these bacteria in your gut, the reduced dopamine gives you less reward after you exercise, which could diminish your motivation levels the next time.

Specifically, the researchers gave some mice antibiotics, which killed off their gut bacteria (via WebMD). The mice ran half the distance they had done before taking the antibiotics but regained their running distance when their microbiome was restored. According to a press release about the study, two bacteria, Eubacterium rectale and Coprococcus eutactus reacted with gut receptors, which sent signals to the brain to produce more dopamine.

How to restore exercise motivation, gut-related or not

Antibiotics can significantly impact your gut microbiome because they destroy some of the diversity and balance of the gut's bacteria, according to News Medical Life Sciences. After taking a course of antibiotics, it could take about a month for the bacterial diversity to be restored.

You can keep your gut health in check through your diet, according to Healthline. Increasing the diversity of your food sources by eating a variety of foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, can keep your gut microbiome in balance. It also helps to include fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Polyphenols from cocoa, red wine, almonds, and green tea can increase some of the good bacteria in your gut while limiting harmful bacteria.

If your motivation isn't gut-related, Harvard Business Review has some suggestions. Try setting specific goals broken down into manageable steps so you don't lose motivation halfway before reaching the goal. It also helps to reward yourself for completing some of these mini-steps, but be sure the rewards don't thwart your progress. In other words, you might treat yourself to a tasty treat after a great workout, but don't make that treat a 1,200-calorie dessert. Finally, you can stay motivated to exercise if you connect with a community, so find a running buddy or workout partner who will keep you accountable.