The Challenge of Exercise
The mid-anterior cingulate cortex is the key to overcoming one of the most challenging aspects for people looking to take control of their heath and get off of medications is learning to and sticking with an exercise program. I have been an avid exerciser since I could walk. I love sports, I love movement, but I wouldn’t say I love exercise.
I wake up 4-5 days per week for my regularly scheduled exercise program and 4-5 days I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to get up when it is still dark, I don’t want to feel my muscles burn and my heart pound to the point it is hard to breathe. I don’t like to feel the sweat pour down my face.
I don’t like any of it….but my mid-anterior cingulate cortex does. There is a point (usually about halfway through where I start to “feel it”, where it starts to feel good. Where I am happy to be doing the exercises, where my positive hormones are releasing and things start to feel good. And at the end of each workout I feel great! My body feels great, my mind feels sharp, and I have a level of self pride that is unmistakeable and unequalled.
So, the question is how do you get motivated to do it, especially when you do not want to? Well, I have some great news for you! There is immense benefit in doing things you do not want to do and it is all about the MAC. No, not the computer I am using to create this blog, the much more valuable MAC, the Mid-Anterior Cingulate Cortex.
Understanding the mid-anterior cingulate cortex (MAC)
The Science of the Mid-Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Unpleasant Tasks
The mid-anterior cingulate cortex (MAC), a critical part of our brain involved in emotional regulation and cognitive control, has a fascinating relationship with exercise. When we engage in physical activities, especially those we find challenging or unpleasant, the MAC is activated. This activation is not just a short-term response; regular exercise stimulates and strengthens this region of the brain. This growth and strengthening of the MAC through consistent exercise are crucial. It enhances our ability to tackle stressful situations, improves our capacity for self-discipline, and boosts our overall cognitive function.
Essentially, by regularly participating in exercises that we might not initially enjoy, we are training our brains to better manage discomfort, sharpen focus, and fortify mental resilience. The development of the MAC through exercise exemplifies the profound interconnection between physical exertion and cognitive well-being, underscoring the importance of incorporating challenging physical activities into our routines for both mental and physical health benefits.”
How it shrinks
The mid anterior cingulate cortex (MAC), a vital component of our brain associated with emotion regulation, decision-making, and cognitive control, is susceptible to various factors that can contribute to its shrinkage or atrophy. Prolonged exposure to stress is a primary factor; chronic stress can lead to the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which, over time, can be detrimental to brain structures, including the MAC. Additionally, a lack of mental stimulation and physical activity can negatively impact the MAC. Physical inactivity and an absence of challenging cognitive tasks can lead to reduced neural activity in this region, potentially causing its decline.
Poor sleep patterns and unhealthy diets, especially those high in sugars and fats, have also been linked to reduced brain volume, including the MAC. Furthermore, certain mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, have been observed to correlate with a reduction in the size of the MAC, although it’s a complex relationship involving multiple brain regions. Understanding these factors is crucial in developing lifestyle choices and interventions aimed at preserving the integrity and functionality of the MAC, thereby supporting overall cognitive and emotional well-being.”
Exercise That Feels Like a Chore But Pays Off
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT training generally involves working at a very high intensity for a short time followed by a short rest. You generally repeat the work/rest times for 5-20 rounds. HIIT training keeps you in an anaerobic state meaning your heart rate is high, you can not carry on a conversation, and you primary fuel source is glucose and lactic acid. The benefits of HIIT training include: improved cardiovascular health, efficient calorie burn, and increased metabolic rate. HIIT training can feel unpleasant due to the shortness of breath, the pounding of the heart, and if you do it fully the metallic taste in you mouth.
My personal favorite exercise modality is weight training. I strongly agree with Dr Lyon that most people are under-muscled. When we use weights (both external loads and our bodyweight), we create microtears in our muscles. As our muscles heal (provided you have enough protein in your diet and a solid stretching program), they build back bigger and stronger. Your muscles are enormous utilizers of glucose as well as being second only to the liver in glucose storage. All of this glucose storage and utilization are major catalyst to healing and preventing Type 2 diabetes.
Another amazing benefit of weight training is that muscle tissue utilizes fat tissue as a fuel source when we are at rest and you burn calories for an additional 48 hours after your weight training workout as the muscles go through the healing process. This all leads to lower body fat and inflammation levels.
Weight training can feel unpleasant due to the burning feeling it can produce in the muscular system. There can also be fair amount of muscle soreness in the days following a weight training session. Remember, it is this very unpleasantness that provides the envoirnment for the growth of the MAC, that is why it is nicknamed “the seat of the will”.
Habit over motivation
In conclusion, most people do not like to exercise and even those who do not tend to like it all of the time and it turns out that that is actually a very good thing. As mentioned above, when we engage in activities that we do not want to do at the time, but in the log run are beneficial to us, we develop our mid-anterior cingulate cortex (MAC).
When we avoid participating in these same activities our mid-anterior cingulate cortex shrinks and we lose the benefits it provides to us. Having a habit will get you past the motivation blues and onto the longevity benefits of a strong MAC. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the MAC and hear from a living example of its powers, check out this interview with Dr Huberman and David Goggins.
The First Step Towards Habit
The best way to start any fitness program is to get an assessment by a qualified trainer. Check out this blog on, If you’re not assessing you’re guessing and learn all about the value of a CHEK practitioner and why jumping into some random exercise program you found online or via AI will do more damage than good in the long run. As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions you may have. If you would like to see how we work with our clients please visit us HERE!