Regular exercise usually increases vitality, but a lot of people just don’t have the energy or motivation to get started on an exercise program. Although different factors can be involved, such as low thyroid, inadequate nutrition, or trying to force yourself into a boring exercise routine, a 2013 study showed that genetics can encourage either a love of movement or for your favorite recliner. Fortunately, there are ways you can compensate for couch potato genes.
Rats given running wheels usually put them to good use, but scientists observed that some rats choose to run more than others. They separated high voluntary exercising (HVE) rats from low voluntary exercisers (LVE), and bred them through ten generations to produce final generations of super-HVE and super-LVE rats. The primary differences found between the two groups had to do with genes that control the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. The researchers believe that humans have similar genes that make them avid exercisers or exercise-averse.
Dopamine is our “reward hormone,” responsible for most of our body’s “feel-good” chemicals – the very same chemicals that are released by addicting substances like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and cocaine. Those naturally low in dopamine have the “blahs”— lacking energy, they feel sluggish, unresponsive and unmotivated. They tend to gain weight, have food cravings and uncontrolled appetite, get depressed and resist exercise. Those naturally high in dopamine, on the other hand, feel zest for living, ambition, and sex drive; they have sharp minds and a good ability to focus; they usually don’t have problems with over-eating, and they look enjoy physical movement.
There’s probably quite a lot of middle-ground between these two extremes. If you or someone you care about is on the zombie end of the spectrum, see The Mood Cure, by Julia Ross, for a therapeutic program. Ms. Ross is the founder and director of Recovery Systems, a holistic clinic in Mill Valley, California, that has helped thousands of people to overcome mood problems.
However many of us could probably benefit from a little more dopamine. Dopamine can become depleted if you’ve used stimulants on a regular basis or have endured chronic stress. As we age, we tend to produce less dopamine and gradually lose more and more dopamine receptors in our brains, perhaps due to accumulated oxidative damage.
Fortunately, there are ways to increase dopamine and its related feel-good chemicals. First, get plenty of two particular amino acids in your diet: phenylalanine and tyrosine (the body can make tyrosine from extra phenylalanine). In the body, tyrosine is converted into dopamine. Although highest in animal foods like meat, dairy and eggs, appreciable amounts of both amino acids are found in almonds, avocados, bananas, brown rice, lima beans, mustard greens, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
Tyrosine is also available as a supplement through Beyond Health. Taken on an empty stomach, as directed, supplemental tyrosine is significantly more powerful than tyrosine in food.
While supplemental tyrosine can be a godsend for some, supporting enhanced mood, energy and motivation without the let-down commonly experienced with caffeine and other stimulants, it can be over-stimulating for others. As with any new supplement, start with small doses, see how your body reacts, and increase your daily dose gradually. Feeling tense and/or jittery, headaches, nausea and increased blood pressure are signs that you’re taking too much.
Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take tyrosine, and you should work with a healthcare professional to integrate tyrosine into your supplement program if you have a diagnosed physical or mental disease, especially one requiring medication.
You also need vitamins B3, B6, B12, C and folate, and the minerals iron and manganese to use tyrosine to make dopamine and convert it into its related feel-good chemicals, like norepinephrine and epinephrine. Vitamin D directs conversion of tyrosine into dopamine and its downstream products.
The omega-3 fats DHA and EPA form critical receptors in the brain for dopamine. If made from the wrong oils, these receptors won’t function properly – the happy message of energy and drive won’t get “heard.” Julia Ross claims that eliminating vegetable oils other than olive oil and upping consumption of these omega-3 fats can improve mood dramatically, and relatively quickly.
Stay off of sugar, and keep insulin levels low. High insulin lowers dopamine levels in the brain.
Finally, vigorous exercise raises dopamine levels. Once you’ve supplied your body with adequate nutrition, if you can use your will power to get into a regular exercise program, in a few months, chances are excellent you’ll start enjoying it a lot more as the extra “reward hormone” dopamine kicks in.
Our favorite form of exercise is the rebounder. Inside watching TV or outside enjoying the fresh air, whatever suits your fancy, bouncing on a rebounder is fun. And you can’t beat it for getting the most benefit out of time spent because it exercises every single cell in your body simultaneously!