Research Suggests Exercise Motivation Associated with Body Weight

New research conducted by researchers at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada suggests that thinner people are more motivated to exercise than their heavier peers.

In a study initially devised to determine how much rats are willing to pay for an opportunity to exercise, the researchers found that slimmer rats were more motivated to work out than their larger peers. In addition, the more weight the rat lost, the more motivated it was to hop on the wheel, so much so that some of the rats in the study quite literally exercised and starved themselves to death (a phenomenon that also occurs in our society in the form of activity- or exercise-anorexia).

Noting that these findings run counter to the widely-held belief that people are motivated to exercise in order to lose weight, lead researcher Terry Belke suggests that “as our body weight goes down, our motivation to run goes up and presumably the rewarding aspects of running tend to also go up.” Based on this theory, he surmises that “the strongest and most powerful determinant of our motivation to run is body weight.”

Circling back to examine the reasons why the rats were motivated to run, Belke notes that it may stem from situations in nature whereby food becomes unavailable and an individual might be forced to become active and relocate in order to increase its odds for survival. However, he notes that in today’s human society, it is “a mechanism that is backfiring” since tracking down food can be as easy as picking up a phone and ordering from a take-out menu!

Speaking to how these study findings translate to our society’s overweight population, he notes that “being socially and cognitively motivated might be enough to get you out and buy a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment, but unless your physiology is essentially supporting and sustaining that, you may not be able to maintain the exercise.”

While we can all attest to the fact that seeing our workouts pay off – whether this is in terms of inches lost, strength gains, or simply perfecting that pull-up – is certainly motivating, it’s interesting to see just how much it has to do with our long-term commitment to exercise!

Furthermore, it’s kind of comforting to know that even members of the rat community worry about looking a little lardy on the treadmill!

What do you make of this study? Hit us up with a comment!

via The Canadian Press

Grace Fell Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Some Extreme Fitness Motivation

Stay Active This Winter

60 in 3: Motivation is Key

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18 thoughts on “Research Suggests Exercise Motivation Associated with Body Weight”

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  1. So, thinness causes exercise, not the other way around? That’s what I’ve been saying for a while; nice to see some scientific evidence for it.

    I think Belke’s explanation is offbase, as a lot of evolutionary explanations are. Don’t get me wrong; I believe in evolution. I just think that speculating about how a mechanism evolved doesn’t tell us much about what is happening in our bodies and, more important, how we can harness it.

    I think a better explanation is Gary Taubes’ hypothesis that obesity is a disorder by which most energy is funneled to storage rather than to metabolism. In other words, in obese people, most calories are stored as fat, leaving the rest of the tissues without enough energy to function properly. This causes both excessive fatigue (and therefore reluctance to exercise) and excessive hunger) and therefore overeating. According to Taubes, the cause of obesity is consuming the wrong type of calories (fuel like carbohydrates that are more prone to storage), and the cure is cutting back on the storage form of calories. Once that cure is undertaken, cells have more energy, and exercise becomes possible.

    1. Your point aligns with my anecdotal “data,” both in others and myself: 1) the obese people in my life are much likely to report that they don’t enjoy exercise compared to the slimmer folks, and 2) when I am heavier by five or ten pounds, my desire to and enjoyment of exercise goes WAY down. Part of that is definitely what I’m eating: my desire to exercise goes down significantly the day after a one-time incident of carb-binging, and when I’m heavier by five or ten pounds, it’s because I’m eating more carbs.

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