Exercise resistance – is it for real?
Chat with Zulaikha and Sue 16th January 2023
Q: A sedentary lifestyle can make one resist the idea of exercising, but this also has something to do with gut and brain chemistry – as we will soon find out. But firstly Sue, explain what is meant by the term exercise intolerance?
People with autoimmune, adrenal or thyroid problems may experience exercise intolerance. (They want to get fit – so they are not resistant to the idea of exercising.) Afterwards they may feel ill and fatigued for several days or even weeks after a workout that pushes them too far. Autoimmunity lowers your capacity to handle extra stress on the body, which is essentially the purpose of exercise: to add pressure on your body to create change. However, too much stress can trigger inflammation in the body.
Stress also directly affects our thyroid function. When the body is stressed, the adrenal glands produce cortisol. Studies suggest that elevated levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) are associated with high levels of cortisol. Thyroid hormones can significantly decrease the strength of respiratory and skeletal muscles, and the body may not be able to maintain this effort. You get that crashed out feeling after exercise.
Q: How can antibiotics interfere with exercise motivation and performance?
When researchers dosed mice with broad-spectrum antibiotics, killing off their gut bacteria, the distance the rodents were able to run dropped by half. But off the antibiotics, the mice mostly regained their previous performance levels. Only when researchers started focusing on the brain did they understand that the microbiome’s (gut microbes) effect on exercise capacity was mediated by the central and peripheral nervous systemsTo find out how, exactly, bacteria in the colon were signalling the brain, they performed a series of experiments over several years. They identified two types of bacteria, Eubacterium rectale and Coprococcus eutactus. These strains produce compounds called fatty acid amides that interact with endocannabinoid receptors in the gut. Those endocannabinoid receptors signal the brain to cut back its production of monoamine oxidase, the compound that breaks down dopamine. With less of this dopamine-clearing compound in the brain, more dopamine could build up after a long run, making the mice feel good and eager to have another exercise session. What about us?
Q: What do we mean by microbiome?
The microbiome consists of thousands of bacterial groups, millions of genes, and non-bacterial cells and viruses. It’s extremely hard to determine what different gut biota actually do because there are so many interrelated functions.
They say the gut microbiome could influence motivation and performance by enhancing the effects of dopamine in the brain, meaning that we experience more reward sensations – especially if the dopamine effect is lengthened.
The microbiome is essential for “nutrient uptake, vitamin synthesis, energy supplies, inflammatory modulation, and the host immune response. Certain biota have even been identified as especially important for athletic performance!
Q: But how does our microbiome motivate us to start as well as persist with exercise if we have wiped it out?
Many of us feel sluggish, unmotivated – but guilty that we are not doing the recommended amount of exercise. Is it your fault that you get depressed at the thought of jumping up and waving about, running and climbing stairs? Rather ask yourself what has happened to your gut biome. Have you recently had a few doses of antibiotics? These wipe out the beneficial bacteria and other essential microscopic entities within our bowels that are actually in communication with our brains, 24/7. No interaction between the biome and the brain also means no motivation to even start with exercise. This leads to low dopamine levels – no chance of unleashing those feel good factors.
Q; Does this have something to do with opioids and a ‘runner’s high’?
We used to think that opioids and endorphins (feel good chemicals) were released by intensive exercise but a new study found that “endorphins do not play a significant role as compared to cannabinoid effects. When we generate them with exercise, they are called endo- or self-generated so, no cannabis is necessary! There is also no danger of drug addiction. However, the pleasant anti-anxiety euphoric effect is the reward you get , this free runner’s “high”. You feel motivated to go back to that space, even if it means getting up, exerting yourself and pushing even harder.
Q: If we are suffering from a wipe out of the gut biome, should we force ourselves to exercise?
Keep telling yourself that it will be worth it! A resultant spike in eCBs, not endorphins, was found in subjects after exercise. Similarly, researchers agree that eCBs can easily pass from the bloodstream into the brain, helping to alleviate pain during hard exercise. It is a difficult habit to set up – but one well worth establishing.
Q: How could restoring the gut biome help – would it really break down exercise resistance?
Back to the rat trials: A complete, healthy and well balanced gut microbiome contributes to the generation of intestinal [fatty acid] metabolites that send an exercise-induced signal to the brain to sustain the pleasurable effects of dopamine. In other words, we need both a healthy gut biome as well as exercise i.e. : running and exerting ourselves as opposed to strolling along.
Q: What if we have the motivation, but are still badly out of breath and feel weak when we run?
Low oxygen levels are another problem, especially if you have thyroid problems or are anaemic. Low iron means that not enough oxygen can be transported to the lungs. Usually anaemia is due to a lack of iron or vitamin B12 and is easy to correct. However, if it is due to an autoimmune problem, you will suffer from hypoxia when you exert yourself. One leading cause of thyroid and adrenal issues is gluten intolerance. Starting with cutting out wheat, most people will benefit from improved oxygenation. If not, all forms of gluten need to be cut out. After persisting for a few weeks, one can break through into the runner’s high zone. Taking Coleus Forskolii tincture before the run helps to release more energy to cell mitochondria. Adaptogens can help to strengthen the adrenals.
Q: So, we need to take probiotics and eat more fermented food! We have discussed this topic many times, please remind us?
We all know about yoghurt – especially after experiencing diarrhoea after a course of antibiotics. They kill our gut flora to the point that we get the runs. But there are many other types of fermented foods that we can enjoy – especially olives, kimchi, sauerkraut, gherkins and pickled onions. We can also make our own pickles out of a variety of vegetables and there are plenty of recipes on the internet. Learn to make your own cottage cheese out of Amasi.
Recipes-for-probiotic-food-.pdf (naturefresh.co.za) My free 16 page PDF guide to probiotic foods to recondition your gut biome. They also help you increase serotonin, GABA and glutathione. Print and keep!
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