It’s been proven that regular physical exercise has positive effects on the mind, not only on the body, and it is maybe the psychological benefits that keep us motivated and returning to the gym week after week.
So let’s take a look at how exercising keeps your brain fit and your spirits in good shape.
"Runner's high' is a phrase that we use to describe the feelings of psychological well-being that are associated quite often with long-duration, rhythmic-type exercise, and marathon running certainly falls into that category," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, according to WebMD.
First, this state of euphoria is very subjective –it not only depends on the mindset you keep during exercising, but also on your level of fitness and the duration of the exercise session. It is often reported by long-distance runners or rowers (hence its other name, “Rower’s high”) and in both cases it’s a result of long workouts, at a moderate intensity.
For a while now, scientists believed that Runner’s high is caused by the release of endorphins during exercising –these have an effect similar to morphine and were supposed to generate this feeling of well-being. But more recent research suggests that norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin secretion, as well as endocannabinoids may be responsible for it.
Not a marathon runner? Don’t stress!
While this short-lived euphoria state is more likely to be experienced by marathon runners, you don’t need to be one to get your slice of the Runner’s high pie. "On average, you tend to see people who are runners and habitual exercisers having better moods, suffering from less depression and less anxiety, and more general feelings of well-being. For people who are physically active on a regular basis, they have active relaxation --kind of by moving the body and focusing on the sensation of moving your body and getting into the rhythmic activity and motion, it produces this relaxation response, and that I think contributes significantly to the feelings of psychological well-being,"says Bryant.
A word of warning
While achieving that awesome high might be a very strong motivation to exercise, we strongly advise you not to overdo it. It could happen that the chemicals your brain releases may mask the pain your muscles are feeling, so it’s easy to not miss the danger signals that warn you when you’re overworking your body. As with everything, moderation is key –start small, then gradually increase the length and intensity of your exercise.