Feeling stressed and depressed about the amount of homework (I’m a student btw) I needed to get done over the weekend, I was hesitant to use my few free hours to hit the gym. But as a fitness blog writer, I felt guilty for preaching the importance of fitness and then skipping out on my own workout. So even though I had a nightmare provoking amount of reading, I went to the gym anyways. An hour later, I was sure glad I did. I felt like a completely different person. Suddenly, my impending amount of school work seemed totally doable; my mind was completely clear, focused and awake; and overall I just felt positive and optimistic. It was such an intense high that I decided to find out exactly why exercise makes us happy.
After researching, I found out that my body was producing hormones that were helping to deal with the stress of exercise. As we exercise and increase our heart rates, our bodies recognize this as a sign that we are fighting or fleeing from a threat. In order to help us to defeat the danger (does the treadmill count as a danger?) our bodies produce certain hormones and proteins that make it easier for us to combat our threats.
Most of us have heard of endorphins and how they can make us feel good, but what exactly are they? Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are responsible for blocking pain and for providing feelings of pleasure. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that pass along signals throughout the central nervous system. They can either prompt or suppress further signaling throughout the neurons in the body.
When we feel stressed, fearful, or in pain our body produces endorphins to block pain and help to control emotions. Endorphins can be produced in the pituitary gland, spinal cord, and other areas of your brain and central nervous system.
The majority of your emotions are processed by the brain’s limbic system, which includes your hypothalamus. This is the fun zone that controls your sexual satisfaction, hunger, and breathing. The limbic system is also full of opioid receptors. When you exercise and release endorphins, those endorphins will hit the opioid receptors, leading to a high elation of pleasure.
On top of endorphins, our bodies also release BDNF. Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor is released as a response to the stress of exercise in the same way endorphins are. BDNF is a protective protein that helps to defend your body and brain from potential threats. The proteins also works to repair your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch, thus making us feel at ease and clearheaded after working out.
The chemicals that we are naturally producing during exercise are similar to morphine, heroine, or nicotine, meaning they can be pretty intense. But unlike scary potent drugs, they are actually good for us and we SHOULD be trying to get our daily fix. While we all have our excuses for not having the time to squeeze in a workout, the great thing is that we start getting these hormone rushes within the first twenty minutes of exercising. So if you want to start feeling good, you don’t need to spend two hours on the treadmill, a quick twenty minute workout will suffice. And luckily you’re reading a blog that specializes in quick workouts ;) Scan through the last blog posts for quick ways to get your exercise high :)
For more information on the brain and exercise check out the articles below