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Study Shows Dopamine Boost During Exercise Can Help Your Brain Perform Better

Study Shows Dopamine Boost During Exercise Can Help Your Brain Perform Better
Jamie Haleva
Community User2 months ago
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Exercise is known to be good for both physical and mental health. There are plenty of benefits you can reap from moving your body, from boosting immunity to sleeping better.

But did you know that physical activity can actually help your brain perform better? Past research has shown a link between exercise and cognitive performance, with cardio associated with performing cognitive tasks faster.1

The Study

Now, a recent study published in the Journal of Physiology took a closer look at how physical activity improves mental performance and what mechanisms are involved.

Researchers from many different universities, including the University of Portsmouth and the University of Chichester in England, teamed up to see what exactly is happening in the brain when we exercise.

The researchers believed that dopamine, a neurotransmitter known for its connection to pleasure and happiness (the "feel good" hormone), was involved in this process.

Dopamine is released when we exercise and is one of the main reasons for the workout "high", but interestingly, may also be involved in improving cognitive performance.

The researchers tested this by looking at how quickly people performed cognitive tasks while resting vs. while exercising, and measuring how much dopamine was released by the body during these activities.

They did this using a PET scanner which can show advanced images of the brain.

The researchers also wanted to see if the improved cognitive performance is just from muscle contraction alone or if more advanced brain signals have to be involved.

Will you perform better with brain tasks if someone simply moves your muscles for you or do you need to be telling your brain to move your muscles as a part of exercising?

To find out, the researchers used electrical signals to stimulate muscle contractions in the participants and then measured their dopamine levels and reaction times (cognitive performance) during both active exercise and forced muscle contraction.

The Results

The results of the study showed that exercise did release dopamine and this was associated with an improved reaction time when performing cognitive tasks.

The researchers also found that only contracting the participants' muscles didn't improve cognitive performance, only actual, voluntary exercise did. This means that cognitive performance only improves when exercise is coming from signals from higher brain centers (you telling your brain to move your body) and not just the muscles moving.1

Take Home Message

There you have it—exercise not only promotes a healthy body and makes you feel good, but can even boost your cognitive performance. One more reason to hit the gym, right?

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  1. Ando, S., Fujimoto, T., Sudo, M., Watanuki, S., Hiraoka, K., Takeda, K., Takagi, Y., Kitajima, D., Mochizuki, K., Matsuura, K., Katagiri, Y., Nasir, F.M., Lin, Y., Fujibayashi, M., Costello, J.T., McMorris, T., Ishikawa, Y., Funaki, Y., Furumoto, S., Watabe, H. and Tashiro, M. (2024), The neuromodulatory role of dopamine in improved reaction time by acute cardiovascular exercise. J Physiol, 602: 461-484.
Jamie Haleva
Community User
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A Rutgers University Honors graduate, Jamie grew up on the Jersey shore and double majored in Comparative Literature and Anthropology in college. Jamie is an experienced writer in the health and wellness, biotech, and eCommerce fields. She loves writing with a purpose and has even written for the Department of Justice.

Jamie became drawn to exercise during her time in university and began to notice the physical and mental benefits of moving your body daily. Today, Jamie enjoys Pilates, light weight training, and going on long walks in nature daily.

Jamie is also passionate about eating right and prioritizing gut health and immunity. She is always trying the next innovation in health and wellness. When she’s not writing articles, Jamie enjoys reading, playing guitar, and finding dogs to play with.