Dopamine Found to Play a Key Role in Boosting Cognitive Performance During Exercise


A recent study conducted by researchers has shed light on the mechanisms behind why cognitive performance improves in response to exercise. The study found that dopamine, a neurotransmitter and hormone associated with pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, plays a crucial role in this improvement. The findings have significant implications for cognitive health and could potentially lead to new therapeutic approaches for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, ADHD, addiction, and depression. The research, published in The Journal of Physiology, utilized positron emission tomography (PET) to measure the release of dopamine in the brain during exercise.

The results of the study demonstrated that when participants engaged in exercise while lying down in the PET machine, their brains exhibited increased dopamine release, which was associated with improved reaction time. Dr. Joe Costello, a researcher from the University’s School of Sport, Health & Exercise Science, expressed excitement about the findings, stating, “Using novel brain imaging techniques, we were able to examine the role dopamine plays in boosting brain function during exercise, and the results are really promising. Our current study suggests the hormone is an important neuromodulator for improved reaction time.”

The study involved three experiments with a total of 52 male participants. In the first experiment, individuals underwent cognitive tasks both at rest and while cycling in the PET scanner, allowing researchers to monitor dopamine movement in the brain. The second experiment involved the use of electrical muscle stimulation to examine whether forced muscle movement could also enhance cognitive performance. The final experiment combined voluntary and involuntary exercise. The findings revealed that cognitive performance improved when voluntary exercise was performed, but not when only forced electrical stimulation was used.

Soichi Ando, an Associate Professor at the University of Electro-Communications in Japan, explained the significance of the results, stating, “We wanted to remove voluntary muscle movement for part of the study to see if the process in which acute exercise improves cognitive performance is present during manufactured exercise. But our results indicate that the exercise has to be from the central signals of the brain, and not just the muscle itself.” This suggests that the instruction from the brain’s central command to move the body during exercise is what triggers dopamine release.

The researchers’ previous study examined the relationship between oxygen levels, cognitive performance, and exercise. However, the findings debunked the theory that increased oxygen intake during exercise leads to improved cognitive performance. Additionally, the researchers acknowledge the need for further studies to more comprehensively understand the link between dopamine release and cognitive performance following exercise. They recognize that the sample size in this study was relatively small and recommend conducting future experiments with more participants, including women and older individuals, over a longer duration.

The discovery of dopamine’s role in boosting cognitive performance during exercise provides valuable insights into the neurological processes involved. It highlights the potential benefits of exercise not only for physical health but also for cognitive well-being. As researchers continue to delve into the complexities of brain function and exercise, the findings of this study could pave the way for the development of targeted therapeutic interventions to improve cognitive function in various populations.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it