Does the Motivation to Exercise Lie in Your Genes?

istock_000014641976xsmallDo you enjoy doing a tough workout at the gym, or do you look for any excuse you can to take a day off? The answer could lie in your genes. Recently, researchers at McMaster University in Canada made an interesting discovery. When they inhibited two muscle genes in rodents, mice that typically love to run on a wheel became the equivalent of rodent couch potatoes. Humans have similar genes, which leads to the question. Is the motivation to exercise genetic?

Motivation to Exercise and Genetics: Are Your Exercise Genes Turned On?

The genes in mice that researchers successfully turned off code for a protein called AMP-kinase or AMPK for short. AMPK is an enzyme involved in energy metabolism during exercise. When AMPK level increase, it helps active muscle cells take up glucose to use for fuel. It also stimulates the breakdown of fat. AMPK also increases the number of mitochondria in muscles cells, which makes them more efficient at producing energy. All good things when you’re doing a workout.

Mice, and probably humans, without the genes that code for AMPK would feel more sluggish and lack the motivation to do a workout. If they did exercise, they would probably stop more quickly and wouldn’t have the motivation to do high-intensity exercise.

AMPK and the Motivation to Exercise Can Be Turned On and Off

In people, the production of AMPK can be up and down-regulated. Couch potatoes who choose a night of television over a trip to the gym generally have lower levels of AMPK due to inactivity. Researchers believe this explains why exercise is so difficult when people first start out and why it becomes less challenging over time. It takes time to ramp up AMPK production again.

AMPK production also declines with age and is lower in people who are obese. This means if you wait until you’re older to start working out, it can be particularly daunting at first. This is especially true if you’ve put on a few pounds since higher levels of body fat reduce AMPK levels. Fortunately, it gets easier over time as AMPK levels increase in response to regular physical activity.

The Bottom Line?

Genetics may partially explain why some people enjoy running long distances or lifting heavy weights at the gym, while others would rather relax on the sidelines. But all of that inactivity makes it even harder to get up off the couch and get moving, and it becomes more challenging with age as AMPK levels decline and body weight rises.

The key is to start moving and boost your AMPK levels naturally. It may not feel good at first, but the longer you rest in an easy chair, the harder it is to get up. Human beings are made to move, and when they don’t do it, it leads to health problems. The take-home message? Muster up the motivation to work out, set exercise goals, and it’ll get easier over time. It’ll be worth it.



Vancouver Sun. “Exercise Gene Keeps Us Moving: Study”
Couch Potatoes Explained? Missing Key Genes May Be Cause for Lack of Resolve to Exercise, Researchers Find


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