Exercise and Your Pleasure Center

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09well_physed-tmagArticleYesterday, the New York Times published an article titled “Are you programmed to Enjoy Exercise?”  The article reports on a study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia and published by the Journal of Physiology that investigates the genetic and environmental influences that impact the subjects behavior surrounding exercise.  In this study, the subjects were rats who were bred and divided into two subgroups; one group consisted of rats who spent hours on running wheels and the second group consisted of rats that spent zero to little time on running wheels.  The NYT article implies that active rats were hypothesized to produce active offspring and inactive rats were hypothesized to produce inactive offspring.  It was discovered that a portion of the brain called the nucleus accumbens was more developed in the rats who liked to run as opposed to the rats who did not like to run.  The nucleus accumbens is the portion of the brain, sometimes referred to as the “pleasure center” and is associated with motivation, pleasure, and addiction.  Two other noteworthy facts were discovered: 1) regardless of running behavior, the rats who were bred to run had a more developed nucleus accumbens than those rats who were bred for malaise and 2) when the non-running rats were encouraged to exercise on the running wheels, they started to develop more mature neurons in their nucleus accumbens.  In essence, both genetic and environmental factors influenced the rats behavior with regard to physical activity, and specifically the environmental factors may have a long-term influence over genetic factors.

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