Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.

mbg Health Contributor

By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.

mbg Health Contributor

Gretchen Lidicker earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”

women outside exercising in sports bra with hands on knees taking a break

Image by Jovo Jovanovic / Stocksy

January 5, 2023

When it comes to exercise, motivation is everything. In fact, the act of getting to the gym, class, or hiking trail can often be more challenging than doing the physical activity itself. 

And interestingly, one recently published study in mice1 found that paying attention to your gut health might make exercise motivation a bit easier to muster. 


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Can your gut bacteria inspire you to work out? 

Published in Nature, the study investigated which internal factors—if any—influence our desire to exercise. The researchers analyzed a wide range of factors, including genome sequences, gut bacterial species, and bloodstream metabolites, looking for any possible connections between these factors and daily voluntary wheel running and endurance. 

They found that mice with certain beneficial gut bacteria (in this case, Eubacterium rectale and Coprococcus eutactus) seemed to have better running performance. The researchers were even able to explain the mechanism behind this connection. To start, these good bacteria produce small molecules known as fatty acid amides (FAAs). FAAs then stimulate receptors on nerves in the gut, which connect directly up the spine to the brain, where they influence motivation by increasing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine

The gut-brain axis and exercise. 

While we’ve long known that gut bacteria can influence mood via the gut-brain axis, this study is newsworthy because it draws a direct connection between specific types of bacteria and the desire to exercise.

Out of all the factors tested, the composition of the mice’s gut bacteria was the most influential when it came to exercise. In fact, the data showed that it was an even bigger factor in exercise motivation than genetics. When the researchers gave the mice broad-spectrum antibiotics to get rid of those specific gut bacteria, they found the mice’s running performance dropped by about 50%. 

Keep in mind that this was an animal study, so we’re not positive that the lessons would apply to humans. But as study senior author Christoph Thaiss, Ph.D., explained in a news release, “If we can confirm the presence of a similar pathway in humans, it could offer an effective way to boost people’s levels of exercise to improve public health generally.”

The researchers think taking probiotics with these specific bacteria could be a cheap, safe, and effective way to not only motivate the average person to exercise but also optimize the performance of elite athletes. 


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Feed the gut, meet your fitness goals? 

It’s the time of year when many of us are thinking about our fitness goals. Perhaps you’ve just begun a challenge or committed to a new program or New Year’s resolution. So, how can we use this study’s lessons to support our fitness goals in 2023?

This study serves as further evidence that the gut is the center of our health. And if we’re not supporting optimal gut health, we won’t accomplish our other wellness goals—whether they’re related to exercise, sleep, mood, or any other aspect of health. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to support gut and microbiome health, including avoiding unnecessary medications, eating plenty of fiber, and avoiding sugar. The easiest and most impactful way to start supporting your gut health is by taking a probiotic supplement. Doing so will provide your body with a daily dose of beneficial bacteria to keep your internal ecosystem balanced and working with you, not against you. To get started with probiotics, check out some of our favorites!

The takeaway.

A new study found that of all the factors tested, gut bacteria composition influenced the desire to exercise the most in mice. It does this by activating the gut-brain axis and influencing the regions of the brain that control motivation. This adds to a mounting body of evidence that optimal gut health is a precursor to whole-body health. 


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