Endorphins for the win: When exercise boosts your brain
We’ve heard of endorphins and runner’s high. This brain chemical is a familiar one to athletes and fitness geeks who can often tell you exactly when they feel it kick in. What exactly does it do, though?
Endorphins are stimulated when we engage in pleasurable activities such as laughing or are released when we exercise. What most people don’t mention when they talk about endorphins is that the chemical is also released when we stub our toes on the edge of the coffee table.
This fantastic brain chemical not only responds to pleasure but pain as well. Endorphins are also known by another name: endogenous (of the body) opioids. Yup. Opioids. That’s because endorphins relieve pain.
While this brain chemical is still being studied, what we do know about it is that it is released during exercise, and has a powerful mood-boosting effect on us. This is why we might not feel like we actually want to go running at the start of our training session, but feel joyful and uplifted afterwards. Our brain just got a boost.
The catch is that the intensity of the workout needs to be moderate to vigorous in order to feel the effects. What is the difference between the two? Moderate exercise would include activities such as a brisk walk, gardening or a light bike ride. Vigorous exercise would include things like CrossFit, running, playing rugby or an intense bike ride.
Because endorphins make us feel good, it is believed that they relieve stress as well. Another reason to get off the couch or out of the office and onto that trail run!
Other benefits of boosting your brain chemicals while you exercise include pain relief, reduced inflammation, improved mood, relief of anxiety and depression, and, of course, an increase in pleasure.
Next time you hit the trail or the road or the gym, remember that your body isn’t the only thing that is getting something wonderful out of exercise: your mental health and brain health are boosted too!