But what exactly is going on in our grey matter, so to speak, during and after a round of exercise?
The Runner’s High, Exercise and feeling awesome
Most of us are familiar with the term ‘runner’s high,’ which is typically used to describe the state of happiness and mild euphoria we feel after an intense workout.
What causes this joyful feeling?
Exercise has been shown to trigger endorphins. These hormones are also released when you enjoy other happy or pleasurable activities, such as eating a delicious meal or having sex.
In addition to making us feel happy and relaxed, endorphins attach to opioid receptor sites in the brain which actually block the signalling of pain throughout the body, helping us ‘come down’ from our intense workout.
This physical phenomenon is also closely linked with other chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin, both of which are feel-good compounds that affect our sense of reward and satisfaction from a given activity.
In other words: That feeling you get after a great running session, when everything just seems right and you’re perfectly at ease? That’s actually dopamine and serotonin doing their job!
The Connection between Exercise and Longevity
As well as reducing stress, fighting depression, and generally making us feel great, exercise is also an important component for those of us who want to live a little longer.
When the stress hormone cortisol is acutely or chronically released in excess, it can wreak havoc on the body, leading to widespread inflammation and oxidative cell damage.
Although intense exercise can release this hormone, it also helps the body more effectively regulate cortisol so you are better equipped to handle the daily stressors in your life.
Exercise also provides a veritable boost to our immune systems by significantly increasing the production of antibodies and T-cells throughout the body.
If you exercise on the regular, you will also be far less likely to contract common illnesses such as seasonal flu. This means when your co-workers are coughing and hacking around the office this winter, you’ll be able to hold your head high and know your health and fitness efforts are paying dividends!
You’re actually getting extra benefits from every workout – the mood-enhancing properties of exercise lend themselves to an enhanced immune system, due to the overall reduction of stress in the body.
Your New Motto: Get Fit, Get Happy!
If you’re wondering how much work it takes to trigger these feel-good and health benefits, here’s some great news. You only have to take a brisk walk, cycle for 20 minutes, or perform some weight training to immediately feel the psychological benefits of exercise – the physical benefits will follow in due course.
If you've been in doubt about whether or not to pick up a new exercise routine, just remember: you’re not only going to look better, you’re going to feel great!
- What happens to our brains when we exercise and how it makes us happier
- How Stuff Works: Exercise Happiness
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