top of page
  • Writer's pictureTerry Clayton

The Connection Between Dopamine and Exercise: How Working Out Boosts Your Mood

Updated: Apr 11

My daughter gave me the book, Dopamine Nation, for my birthday. I have been wanting to read this book for a while. There is an interesting discussion comparing different activities with the dopamine hit you get from each (see below). Activities include eating, sex, and even hitting crystal meth...



The more a drug (or activity) activates the release of dopamine into the 'reward pathway' of the brain and the faster it does so, the more addictive the drug. The 'reward pathway' is a brain circuit linking the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and the prefontal cortex.



If this chart isn't enough to scare you away from methamphetamines, I don't know what will!


While reading Dopamine Nation, you cannot help but start to reflect on your daily habits and routines. Are there red flags in my lifestyle? I thought about my daily exercise routine. I exercise 5 to 6 days a week rotating between strength training and cardio. When I occasionally miss a day, I feel disappointed. I might even say my day is a little off.


I have read about the runner's high and the endorphin release one experiences after a good workout, but I have not thought about dopamine. I was sure there is a boost in dopamine but never thought about how this compares with the Ferguson list. Or how it might relate to addiction. So, I decided to look into.


Is there a dopamine release during or after exercise?


In short, yes, there is, and it's been well researched. In fact, a quick Google Scholar search yielded over 224,000 publications on the subject. The increase in dopamine as a result of exercise can be as high as 30-40% versus baseline. This boost is almost the same as that of eating food. Sooooo, if you get a hit of dopamine from exercise the same way you do eating or video games, are there any risks? Do you crash from the dopamine spike like you do from other triggers?



Is a dopamine release related to exercise healthy in the long term?


Good News! It turns out the boost in dopamine from exercise is a bit different than the hit from other activities. In a 2022 study by Bastioli where mice were allowed to voluntarily exercise for 30 days; the boosted dopamine in mice persisted 7 days after exercise stopped.




Now Bastioli's research was focused on how exercise may help those with Parkinson's Disease. Her team's conclusions were that Parkinson's Disease patients who engaged in routine exercise enjoyed motor improvement and alleviation of symptoms. Additionally, the benefits were due to a prolonged elevation of dopamine. That was not all. Research has found a number of benefits on brain health related to exercise. These include:


  • Improvements in cognition

  • Therapeutic impacts on depression and anxiety

  • Neuroplasticity and neuroprotection


Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., is an associate professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab conducts research on how the brain works. Dr. Huberman summarizes four key strategies to maintain healthy dopamine reserves as well as boosting baseline dopamine.


  • Sleep - to restore your dopamine levels

  • Nutrition - notably getting plenty of tyrosine

  • Sunlight - view as much as you can in morning

  • Exercise - at least 5 days per week.


On that last point, Dr. Huberman emphasizes that exercise is responsible for elevating your baseline dopamine. As you can see from the chart below, the dopamine boost you get from exercise will result in an elevated baseline level, and my better mood.





Delving into the intricacies of dopamine regulation and its correlation with various activities through the lens of "Dopamine Nation" sheds light on the complexities of human behavior and the nature of addiction. The Ferguson chart, starkly contrasting the dopamine hits from mundane activities like eating to dangerously addictive substances like crystal meth, serves as a wake-up call to the power of this neurotransmitter in shaping our habits and lives.

 

Exploring the realm of exercise, often touted for its numerous health benefits, reveals a fascinating interplay with dopamine. While the surge of dopamine during and after exercise might evoke concerns akin to other pleasurable activities, research suggests a distinctiveness in its effects. Studies, exemplified by Bastioli's work, underscore the enduring elevation of dopamine post-exercise, offering hope for conditions like Parkinson's Disease and affirming the broader neuroprotective and cognitive benefits associated with physical activity.

 

The synthesis of research findings and expert insights underscores the pivotal role of exercise in maintaining healthy dopamine levels and overall well-being. Dr. Huberman's recommendations encapsulate a holistic approach to dopamine regulation, advocating for strategies that encompass not just exercise but also sleep, nutrition, and exposure to sunlight. In embracing these practices, individuals can nurture a sustainable foundation for optimal dopamine function, thereby fostering resilience against addictive tendencies and promoting long-term health, vitality and mood.



35 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page