We like to blame outside factors when we don’t make it to the gym:
“Now it’s prime time, I’ll never get a machine.”
“There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Turns out, certain couch potatoes may have a semi-legitimate excuse for their gym aversion: genetics. New research by Rodney Dishman, Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia, suggests that the way our brain cells bind (or don’t bind) with dopamine may inform our exercise habits. (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel pleasure and reward.)
Dishman and his team examined the fitness routines of 3,000 adults. After monitoring participants’ neural response to physical activity, the researchers found that subjects who had difficulty maintaining a set exercise routine — or skipped the gym entirely — shared a genetic variation.
Normally, when we exercise, our bodies release dopamine as a reward for our efforts, which makes us feel good about ourselves (hello, runner’s high) and makes our sweat sessions seem worthwhile.
However, certain individuals’ brain cells don’t readily bind with dopamine. Thus, these people don’t associate exercise with reward (at least, not immediate reward) and don’t appreciate gym time as much as those lucky beings who get a full dopamine-fueled return. Lacking this added incentive, the dopamine-ally challenged tend to exercise less.
“Combined with personality measures, we think these genes may help explain why some people have a natural urge to be active, while others never do,” Dishman told Cosmopolitan.
Of course, those possessing this genetic predisposition can still trump nature with nurture — enlist a workout buddy, hire a trainer, make a Soul Cycle-worthy playlist, muster up some self-discipline. Think of it this way: each day people conquer tougher health concerns than this one. Picture them as you drag your butt to the gym.
And hey, you only really need to work out for one minute, so there’s that.