Scientists have found that there is an area in the brain that can control your motivation to exercise. The same area can also can control motivation to participate in other rewarding activities. This can be a truly important discovery since the knowledge can be used for improving treatments for depression.
Depression has two hallmarks- changes in physical activity and inability of the patient to enjoy pleasurable and rewarding experiences. If there is no motivation to exercise and to participate in rewarding activities, may soon lead to depression, if the person is already not suffering from it.
Researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute made the important discovery. They found that a specific part of the brain is responsible for controlling someone's motivation to exercise and participate in rewarding activities. The area of the brain in question is known as the dorsal medial habenula. This is a tiny region of the brain. It was found to control the desire to exercise in mice. The structure of habenula in mice is similar to that of humans and so the basic functions of motivation and mood regulation are likely to be similar.
Exercise is considered as one of the most effective and nonpharmacological therapies used for fighting depression. When the researchers know that a specific area of the brain is responsible for the motivation to exercise, they will be able to create more targeted and effective treatments to fight off depression.
Till now the brain pathways that controls motivation for exercise has not been understood well. With the new discovery, it'll be easier to manipulate activity in the specific region of brain without affecting any other part of the brain and its activities.
The study used mouse models. The mice were genetically engineered to ensure blockage of signals from the dorsal medial habenula. In general, a typical mouse like to run in its exercise wheel. However, the genetically engineered mice were lethargic and they did not run so much. These mice also did not like the sweetened drinking water like normal mice. When the mice do not have a functioning dorsal medial habenula, they become inactive and couch potatoes. Even though they can run physically, they are not motivated to do that.
Then the researchers activated the dorsal medial habenula of the mice using optogenetics, which is a laser technology. The mice who had their dorsal medial habenula activated, preferred to turn the wheel showing that the specific tiny region of the brain is related to rewarding behaviour.
Previously, traditional methods were not able to isolate that specific region of the brain and so could not determine the role of the important part of the brain. With the latest technology, scientists now have a better understanding of the works of different parts of the human brain.
The discovery will be a big help for the doctors who treat depression. The new knowledge will make a difference in the lives of people who are suffering from depression. It can be used for development of new treatments. People with mental illnesses will be treated with new ways and medicines that will help them to get over their problems.
As the area controlling motivation for exercise is now known, doctors will be able to advise more targeted options for people suffering from depression and people who are not interested in exercise to ensure they have the necessary exercise. Physical exercise is a very important element in life and it offers many benefits. It not only keeps you healthy but it also reduces risk of several other medical conditions. Treatments, medicines and other treatment options to motivate more people exercise will ensure healthy people and lower medical problems in the population.