How to Increase Your Motivation to Exercise

It’s that time of year again.  You’ve probably noticed a lot of new faces at the gym the past couple of weeks.  Yes, health clubs see a spike in memberships in January but the crowds usually start thinning out by the end of the month.

Maybe you’re part of the January gym rush? If you’re like hundreds of millions of people around the world, chances are that you’ve decided to adopt healthier lifestyle habits in 2017, with one of the most common being more exercise. Unfortunately, no matter how noble your intentions, the likelihood of you sticking with your resolution long enough for it to become a habit are statistically slim.

According to a study by researchers at University College London, it takes 66 days to form a habit. Yet for many, the commitment wavers after just a few weeks.

You’re undoubtedly familiar with the tips and tricks that promise to guarantee success:

Be realistic.  

Be specific.  

Share your intentions with friends.

You’ve heard it all before. But what if you just don’t feel like working out? Is it laziness…or something else?

Until recently, many experts would point to a lack of willpower as the prime culprit for failing to stay motivated to stick with a workout routine. But a new study suggests that there might be a neurobiological basis for why some of us are couch potatoes  – one that we might actually be able to alter!

The report, which appears to support previous research on the subject, discusses the abnormalities within a person’s dopamine signaling system and how dysfunction in a specific type of dopamine receptor called “D2” can make exercise a very disagreeable experience on a neurobiological level.  According to the researchers, all animals (including humans) seek pleasure and avoid pain but without proper dopamine signaling, it’s impossible for physical activity to feel like a pleasurable or rewarding experience.

So what is dopamine and why is it so important? Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a key role in  our ability to be productive. It’s sometimes referred to as our “motivation molecule” and can increase our drive, focus, and concentration.

When dopamine levels are out of whack you may experience low energy and motivation, and perhaps rely on sugar, caffeine, or other stimulants to get through the day.  Addictive and self-destructive behaviors are also common.The symptoms of dopamine dysfunction sometimes mimic those of depression. These include:

  • fatigue
  • apathy
  • procrastination
  • inability to feel pleasure
  • low libido
  • sleep problems
  • mood issues
  • hopelessness
  • poor memory
  • difficulty concentrating

The best news to come from the latest research is that the dopamine receptor dysfunction is not set in stone. The scientists involved in the study discovered that dopamine receptors are malleable and can be reshaped with the right diet and lifestyle modifications.


If you’ve been eating an unhealthy “obesogenic” diet, your dopamine signaling has likely been affected and you’ll benefit from  some rebooting.  You can actually “wake up” your dopamine receptors with the right foods and this will kickstart the biological reward mechanism that can make someone want to move his or her body voluntarily.

There are certain foods that are known to increase dopamine levels, either directly or indirectly. These include:

  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Beets
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Eggs
  • Kefir
  • Leafy greens
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sauerkraut
  • Watermelon
  • Yogurt

These foods are loaded with nutrients and provide a host of other health benefits.  I try to include several of these foods daily as part of an overall weight management and disease prevention strategy.


  • Probiotics.   You may have noticed a few natural probiotics in the list above.  As it turns out, when unfriendly bacteria outnumber the “good guys” in our gut, there’s an increase in a toxic byproduct known to lower dopamine levels.  A quality probiotic supplement can rebalance your intestinal flora. Look for a multi-strain product with at least one billion colony-forming units (CFUs). The brand Prescript-Assist has considerable scientific backing. Jarrow and Renew Life are reputable companies.tyrosine
  • Tyrosine.  This amino acid is one of the building blocks of dopamine. Foods like eggs, meat, and fish contain tyrosine but some people are unable to absorb and utilize dietary tyrosine due to their genetics.  Supplemental doses of 500-2000mg approximately 30-60 minutes before exercise – or other stressors – can produce a performance boost.  The acetyl-l-tyrosine form seems to result in superior absorption.
  • Theanine.  This is the relaxation-inducing component of green tea.  Not only does it increase dopamine levels but it also boosts other feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA. Drinking several cups of green tea per day may have similar effects but theanine is available in supplement form. Studies have used as little as 100mg.  Several daily doses may be needed. Look for the patented SunTheanine brand.
  • Curcumin. Its benefits in the areas of cancer and Alzheimer’s prevention and joint health are pretty well-established but curcumin has been shown to raise dopamine levels as well. Perhaps this is the reason why it’s proven to be as effective as Prozac in treating mild to moderate depression! Since curcumin has poor bioavailability, look for a supplement that contains bioperine or a patented form like BCM95 or Meriva.


Yoga and meditation. Both activities lead to increased dopamine levels, focus, and concentration and it will come as no surprise to regular practitioners that there’s even some research to confirm the effect.

Music. More than one study has demonstrated that even the anticipation of the sound of music is perceived as a reward and can result in dopamine release and feelings of euphoria. Other research has shown that listening to music during exercise makes us work harder and improves mood and self-awareness.

Hobbies.  Working in small steps toward a goal can help re-wire dopamine pathways. The best activities are those in which you produce something tangible. Examples include photography, sculpting, knitting, and car repair.