Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Day 241 - New Thoughts on Dopamine

For most of us, exercise can produce some pretty amazing "feel good" hormones. There is a even phrase that has been coined because of this change in mental state known as "runner's high". Sure, there are times when you just want to lay on the floor to try and catch your breath before your throw up after an intense workout, but for the most part, exercise should be, and is, a very good mood elevator.

There has been a long-standing belief that this has been caused by the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Research has shown that when individuals partake in pleasurable activities (exercise, eating), they have elevated levels of Dopamine in their brains.

John Salamore and his team from the University of Connecticut has found some somewhat contradictory evidence, however.
But over time, Salamone’s studies and those of others started revealing problems. In animals, dopamine levels can spike after stress, such as losing a fight with another animal. Soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder also show activity in dopamine-rich parts of the brain when hearing recorded gunshots and other combat sounds.
What Salamore and his team of researchers are trying to do, is figure out why and how varying levels of Dopamine in the brain alter your mental state. His team is finding that it may have more to do with energy levels and motivation to complete certain tasks.
For example, what will a rat do when on one end of a corridor there’s a pile of food, but on the other end there’s a pile of food twice as big with a small fence to jump over on the way? 
As Salamone’s studies have showed, animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easy, low-value reward, while animals with normal levels don’t mind exerting the effort to jump the fence for the high-value reward.
Other studies in humans have corroborated these results, such as research with depressed patients. 
“Often, depressed people say they don’t want to go out with their friends,” says Salamone. But it’s not that they don’t experience pleasure, he says – if their friends were around, many depressed people could have fun. 
“Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself,” he explains.
So how does this apply to your situation? Well, chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are either lead an active lifestyle, or you are looking to lead an active lifestyle.

Research has shown that things like exercise can elevate levels of Dopamine. So if that Dopamine is not intended to necessarily 'reward' you, as Salamore hypothesizes, then maybe it can create some momentum with your training.

For example, if you begin an exercise regimen and start to receive these elevated levels of Dopmaine, then perhaps you will continue to get this heightened sense of motivation to continue to stay active. Those are my thoughts at least...

I guess taking the first step is always the toughest, as they say...

Quote of the day:
"Clear your mind of can’t."
~ Samuel Johnson
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