Don't Want to Exercise? Blame Your Dorsal Medial Habenula

Some days I wake up and I cannot wait to lace up my New Balance and start my workout. Other days I simply cannot muster enough strength to even think the word 'exercise'. I wish I could say that being tired or busy is a reason for me not to exercise but I know from experience that's not true.

The end of a somewhat lazy at-home workout.

The end of a somewhat lazy at-home workout.

I have had instances where I've been out all night, have a full day ahead and got up in the morning to exercise like I had a full 8 hours of sleep , while others days after having slept for what feels like an eternity I still don't want to get my butt in gear.  If this research proves true, I should blame one a very specific portion of my brain - dorsal medial habenula. 


The dorsal medial habenula is a tiny area of the brain that is responsible for exercise motivation.

It has been found to control the desire to exercise in mice.

The structure of the habenula is similar in humans and rodents.

The knowledge that such a specific area of the brain may be responsible for motivation to exercise could help researchers develop more targeted, effective treatments for depression.

Past studies have attributed many different functions to the habenula.

A 2010 study revealed that the habenula plays a key role in helping animals survive in a world full of hidden rewards and dangers, by helping them make the best choices. 

It inhibits dopamine-releasing neurons when an animal fails to obtain a reward and is involved in behavioural responses to pain, stress, anxiety, sleep and reward.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres.

The habenula’s dysfunction is associated with depression, schizophrenia and psychosis.


I don't suffer from depression (at least nothing severe enough to require an official diagnosis) but I do realize now that it's harder, if not impossible, to find the motivation to workout on days when I'm in a funk.  Let's hope that whatever treatment is developed from this discovery will also have a safe application as an exercise motivator for lazy people or those just needing a little push. 

Posted on April 9, 2015 and filed under Fitness, Health, Science.