Does Exercise Release Dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter -- a molecule that neurons release to communicate with each other -- that is synthesized from the amino acid tyrosine. By increasing the amount of dopamine in certain regions of the brain, exercise can exert a number of health benefits that can promote positive well-being and even counter negative mental states. Although much of the research is novel and must be confirmed with future studies, the potential of exercise in supporting mental health is promising.
Stress and Depression
Exercise is beneficial for alleviating depression, and this is thought to be due to the effect of physical activity on neurotransmitter synthesis. Dopamine may have a distinct role in fighting stress and in countering depression by acting on the limbic system, a part of the brain that is important in emotional response. An article published in "Neuro Endocrinology Letters" in 2010 found "a close connection to the brain's pleasure, reward and motivation circuits that are particularly bound to limbic structures and to endogenous dopamine, morphine, and nitric oxide signalling."
What Causes Dopamine Depletion?
Addictions are thought to be due, in part, to the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens -- the "reward" center of the brain. Exercise can boost the levels of dopamine in the brain in these same addictive cycles. We all know people who are "addicted" to exercise. In this way, exercise can create new, positive, addiction pathways that could counter negative addictive behaviors. An article published in "Current Neuropharmacology" postulates that the release of dopamine in exercise can counter amphetamine addiction.
- Addictions are thought to be due, in part, to the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens -- the "reward" center of the brain.
- Exercise can boost the levels of dopamine in the brain in these same addictive cycles.
Some schools of thought consider obesity a form of food addiction. As with all addictive behaviors, the food consumption that results in obesity triggers the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens in response to food. Of course, exercise combats obesity by burning calories, but by increasing dopamine synthesis in the nucleus accumbens, it may also help to counter the mechanisms of food addiction. The potential of exercise to combat food allergies is discussed in a paper published in "The Journal of Experimental Biology" in 2011.
- Some schools of thought consider obesity a form of food addiction.
- Of course, exercise combats obesity by burning calories, but by increasing dopamine synthesis in the nucleus accumbens, it may also help to counter the mechanisms of food addiction.
Low Dopamine & Anxiety
Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition characterized by muscle rigidity, a lack of voluntary movements and tremors. The condition is caused by degeneration of dopamine cells in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. By promoting the synthesis of dopamine, exercise can help to counter some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. A paper published in the "Journal of Neuroscience" in 2007 found results in support of this theory using mouse models. Giselle Petzinger, the principle investigator of the study, told "Science Daily" that "surviving dopamine cells in our animal models -- made to simulate what Parkinson's patients suffer with -- subjected to intensive treadmill exercise appear to work harder."
- Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition characterized by muscle rigidity, a lack of voluntary movements and tremors.
What Causes Dopamine Depletion?
Low Dopamine & Anxiety
How Do I Increase Serotonin & Dopamine Levels?
Effect of Smoking Marijuana on Exercise
Long Term Effects of Weightlifting on the Brain
Dopamine vs. Serotonin
Exercises for Nerve Regeneration
How Do I Decrease Dopamine Levels?
Dopamine & Appetite
What Triggers Dopamine?
- "Neuro Endocrinology Letters"; The Neurobiology of Stress Management; T. Esch, et al.; 2010
- "Current Neuropharmacology"; May Exercise Prevent Addiction?; C.A. Fontes-Ribeiro, et al.; March 2011
- "Journal of Experimental Biology"; The Biological Control of Voluntary Exercise, Spontaneous Physical Activity and Daily Energy Expenditure in Relation to Obesity: Human and Rodent Perspectives; T. Garland, Jr., et al.; January 2011
- "Science Daily"; Exercise May Aid Parkinson’s Patients; May 2007
- Cohen, B.M. & Carlezon, W.A. (2007). Can't get enough of that dopamine. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(4):543-6.
- Friedel, R.O. (2004). Dopamine dysfunction in borderline personality disorder: a hypothesis. Neuropsychopharmacology, 29(6):1029-39.
- Ingenhoven, T.J., & Duivenvoorden, H.J. (2011). Differential effectiveness of antipsychotics in borderline personality disorder: meta-analysis of placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials on symptomatic outcome domains. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology,31(4):489-96.
- Siddiqui S.V., Chatterjee U., Kumar, D., Siddiqui A., & Goval, N. (2008). Neuropsychology of prefrontal cortex. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 50(3):202-8.
Sriram Ramgopal is a medical graduate from Sri Ramachandra University, India. He currently lives in the the greater Boston area and works as a Neurology Research Fellow at Children's Hospital, Boston. Ramgopal is also the co-founder of Sangam India, a nonprofit urban development organization based in Chennai, India.