Study explores why exercise boosts brain activities

A study exploring the mechanisms behind why cognitive performance improves in response to exercise, found that the hormone and neurotransmitter, dopamine. plays a key role.

Dopamine which is produced in the body acts on areas of the brain to give you feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Dopamine also has a role to play in controlling memory, mood, sleep, learning, concentration, movement and other body functions. Dopamine is known to increase when you work out. Findings from the new study suggest that dopamine is also linked to faster reaction time during exercise.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth, who were behind the new discovery say their findings could lead to development of new treatment pathways and regimens for cognitive health conditions, based on the significant role that dopamine plays in several mental health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, ADHD, addiction, and depression.

To measure the amount of dopamine released in the brain during exercise, the researchers used a sophisticated scanning device known as a ‘positron emission tomography (PET), which is capable of tracking metabolic and biochemical activity of cells in the body. The results revealed that when a participant cycled lying down in the machine, their brain increased the amount of dopamine release, and that this process was linked with improved reaction time.

Previous studies had shown that cardiovascular exercise improves cognitive performance, but the exact mechanisms behind this process in humans were not explored in detail before. Findings from the new study adds to the growing body of evidence that exercise prescription is a viable therapy for a host of health conditions across the lifespan.

As part of the study, three experiments were carried out with 52 male participants. In the first experiment, individuals were asked to carry out cognitive tasks at rest and while cycling in the PET scanner, so the team could monitor the movement of dopamine in their brain. The second test used electrical muscle stimulation to test whether forced muscle movement to stimulate exercise would also improve cognitive performance. The final experiment combined both voluntary and involuntary exercise.

In the experiments where voluntary exercise was carried out, cognitive performance improved significantly, while this did not occur when only forced electrical stimulation were used. It was also found to be limited when the voluntary and involuntary exercises were combined. The study results indicate that the dopamine release in the brain is initiated when the signal to exercise is from the brain and not just the muscle itself.

The team’s previous study examined the relationship between oxygen levels, cognitive performance and exercise, to test the theory that the more oxygen we breathe during a workout, the more awake our brain is. They found no change to an individual’s reaction time when cycling both inside and outside of an environment with low levels of oxygen (hypoxia).

The researchers said the latest findings support their earlier theory that cognitive performance during exercise is affected by changes to brain regulating hormones, including dopamine. Admitting that other psychophysiological factors, such as cerebral blood flow, arousal and motivation, could be involved in the process, the researchers called for more studies to fully comprehend how dopamine release is linked to cognitive performance following exercise.

Read Today's News TODAY...
on our Telegram Channel
click here to join and receive all the latest updates t.me/thetimeskuwait

Back to top button