How women should exercise to increase dopamine, according to an expert

Woman after exercising. (Getty Images)
Certain types of exercise can increase dopamine levels. (Getty Images)

We know the benefits of exercise in terms of our physical health, but keeping your fitness levels up can also work wonders for your brain and mental health.

If you've ever wondered why you feel a certain 'high' after working out it, it boils down to the release of a so-called 'feel-good chemical', known as dopamine.

According to researchers at the University of Birmingham, dopamine is a chemical messenger – often known as the ‘happy hormone’ – that carries signals controlling mental and emotional responses in the brain.

While it doesn't produce pleasure, dopamine reinforces feelings of pleasure when it connects to certain behaviours, including when we're exercising.

But before we get into the skinny of how working out can boost our feel-good, it's important to look at the reasons, exercise is so important, particularly for women, thanks to new research revealing it could be even more beneficial for the female of the species.

The National Institutes of Health study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that women who exercise regularly have a 24% lower risk of death from any cause compared to women who don't exercise, while men had a 15% lower risk.

“Exercise is extremely beneficial for women for several reasons," explains Rowan Cooke, sport and exercise science specialist at

"Women find their metabolism decreases as they age, so exercise is important for promoting circulation, lowering blood pressure, and maintaining a healthy weight.

"Hormones also play a huge part in a woman's life, and many women may not know that exercise can help regulate their hormonal balance, including oestrogen and progesterone levels."

Cooke says being hormonally balanced can have a positive effect on menstrual health, fertility, and menopausal symptoms.

Man and woman walking. (Getty Images)
Walking is one exercise which can increase dopamine levels. (Getty Images)

How exercise increases dopamine

According to Cooke exercise helps to release dopamine, also known as our ‘feel good’ hormones.

"When dopamine is released, it reacts in areas of the brain to give you feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation," she explains. "We also release endorphins when we exercise, which work nicely alongside dopamine, helping with pain control and mood stabilisation."

Thankfully, several exercise methods can boost the levels of dopamine in your brain.


The best way to increase dopamine levels is by exercising regularly with low-impact workouts, and the most simple method of achieving this is getting your steps in.

"Walking is a great way to increase dopamine levels, especially in an area with enjoyable scenery and nice weather," explains Cooke.

"Taking different scenic routes every day can also help to increase dopamine levels, keeping the brain stimulated.

"Walking at a good pace, around 100-150 minutes per week, is recommended," she adds.

Barefoot walking can up dopamine levels even further, according to Dr Manoj Kutteri who explains it can have the same benefit as acupuncture or acupressure.

"This can be done either on a pebbled path or on the lawn," she writes in The New Indian Express.

"Stimulation of the pressure points is helpful in increasing postsynaptic dopamine neurotransmission and also the activity of basal ganglia which are responsible for motor control, behaviour, emotions and mood."

Woman performing yoga. (Getty Images)
Yoga is a great dopamine-boosting exercise. (Getty Images)


Yoga is another exercise which is great for boosting dopamine levels. "Whilst the practice of yoga is focused on relaxation techniques and stretching certain parts of the body that aren’t normally stretched, yoga can also boost dopamine levels by increasing cardiorespiratory output," Cooke explains.

"These breathing exercises boost mood and enhance communication between the brain and nervous system."

Weight lifting

A recent study revealed that when people with low dopamine levels performed resistance training for eight weeks, their dopamine levels increased by 40%. One possible explanation for this cited in an additional study is that exercise increases the production of the enzyme (compounds that speeds up chemical reactions) that converts tyrosine (building block of dopamine) to dopamine.

"Weight lifting is also a great mood booster because of the feeling of achievement and motivation as a result," adds Cooke. "As you start lifting light and become stronger and increase your weight, dopamine levels will kick in due to a sense of achievement."

Cooke suggests trying to lift weights three to four times per week, with essential rest days in between and the target of slightly increasing your weights every two to three weeks.

Woman lifting weights. (Getty Images)
Lifting weights has been proven to lift your mood. (Getty Images)


According to swimming has helped to reduce the symptoms of anxiety or depression for 1.4 million adults in Britain. Almost half a million British adults with mental health problems also stated that swimming has helped to reduce the number of visits to a medical professional regarding their mental health.

"Whilst it can be seen as a higher intensity sport, swimming is great for boosting dopamine," explains Cooke. "This is because it can increase the number of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Particularly immersing yourself in cold water, which stimulates instant endorphins due to the extreme temperature."

If cold plunges aren’t for you, Cooke suggests around 30 minutes of swimming in water at room temperature is a significant stimulus for endorphins and dopamine release.

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