Scientists identify area of brain associated with exercise motivation

Cute mouse; image courtesy of petsbunch.com"Changes in physical activity and the inability to enjoy rewarding or pleasurable experiences are two hallmarks of major depression."

~Dr. Eric Turner, Seattle Children's Research Institute Center for Integrative Brain Research


Ever heard of your Dorsal Medial Habenula?

Neither had I, but it is likely more important than you think. 

A group of Seattle researchers led by Dr. Turner have run studies on mice that reveal how blocking brain signals from the Dorsal Medial Habenula (DMH) can increase depression and reduce desire to exercise.  "Without a functioning dorsal medial habenula, the mice became couch potatoes," Turner said. "They were physically capable of running but appeared unmotivated to do it." The mice were also given a choice between running on a wheel that stimulated DMH and one that didn't.  The mice strongly preferred the wheel that stimulated DMH, suggesting that this is an area of the brain that is associated with rewarding behavior.

Dorsal Medial Habenula  

A key difference between this study and previous ones is that it is not only the first to correlate the DMH with exercise motivation/depression, but also the first to isolate the DMH for stimulation.  Previous studies were unable to stimulate the DMH without affecting other areas of the brain. 

It will be exciting to see if non-pharmacological therapies can be developed to stimulate mood and motivation in humans...it would definitely beat coffee :)