Health

Gut microbes may increase motivation to exercise

Exercise has a wide range of beneficial health effects, but the motivation-regulating mechanisms behind it remain poorly understood. Now, a new study in mice confirms that gut microbes can increase this desire.

The results of the research, led by scientists from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (USA), were published this Wednesday in Nature.

An important factor that stimulates the practice of exercise, both competitive and recreational, is the motivating pleasure derived from prolonged physical activity, It is triggered by exercise-induced neurochemical changes in the brain.


Physical exercise in the street.

This article describes a gut-brain connection which improves athletic performance by increasing dopamine neurotransmitter signaling during physical activity.

The scientists found that the differences in running performance within a large group of laboratory mice were largely due to the presence of certain species of bacteria intestines in those animals with higher performance.

“If we can confirm the presence of a similar pathway in humans, we might offer an effective way to increase people’s exercise levels to improve public health in general.” summarizes lead author Christoph Thaiss.

more than genetics

To search the factors that determine performance In the exercise, the team recorded genome sequences, gut bacterial species, bloodstream metabolites, and other data from genetically diverse mice.

They then measured the amount of voluntary daily run in the wheel that the animals made, as well as their resistance.

They analyzed the data using machine learning, looking for the attributes of the mice that could best explain the considerable inter-individual differences in running performance.


A woman performs physical exercise outdoors.

The team was surprised to find that genetics seemed to explain only a small part of these performance differences, while inequalities in bacterial populations intestines appeared to be substantially more important, explains a statement from the University of Pennsylvania.

In fact, they found that giving mice broad-spectrum antibiotics to kill off their gut bacteria reduced its performance in the race to half.

extra dopamine

The researchers found that two closely related bacterial species with better performance, “Eubacterium rectale” and “Coprococcus eutactus”, produce metabolites known as fatty acid amides.

The latter stimulate receptors called endocannabinoids CB1 on sensory neurons in the intestine, which connect with the brain through the spinal cord.

This stimulation causes a increased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine during exercise, in a region of the brain called the striatum.

The striatum is a critical node in the reward and motivation network of the brain. The researchers concluded that the extra dopamine in this region during exercise increases performance by reinforcing the desire to exercise.


A couple walks with their dog inside the Retiro park, one of the 19 large green spaces that have opened its doors, as Madrid enters phase 1 of the coronavirus de-escalation.

The findings open up new avenues of scientific inquiry, according to the authors.

For example, experiments showed that the best-performing mice experienced a “runner’s high” more intense -measured in this case by a reduction in sensitivity to pain-, suggesting that this phenomenon is also controlled, at least in part, by intestinal bacteria.

In addition to offering possible cheap, safe and diet-based to get ordinary people running and to optimize the performance of elite athletes, exploring this pathway could also provide easier ways to modify motivation and mood in contexts such as addiction and depression details J. Nicholas Betley, another of the signatories.

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