Why does exercise make you feel good? We all know that regular exercise is good for us. It strengthens our bones and muscles, keeps our heart and lungs in good condition. It also helps us to relax and sleep better, helps keep our weight in check and makes us less likely to get sick.
But, exercise does much more than getting us into shape and help us look good – it also makes us feel good. The adage “healthy body, healthy mind” rings true.
Why this remarkable effect?
Scientists are still trying to unravel the complexities. In simple terms, it’s due to the “feel good” hormones released by the brain giving the sensation of wellbeing.
Often termed our ‘happy hormones’! Three important ones are endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.
Endorphins – the ‘exercise high’ hormone
Endorphins are a powerful hormone released in the brain during aerobic exercise. Endorphins give the feeling of euphoria and exhilaration but are a natural pain-killer. In fact, they are three times more potent than morphine! Endorphins also increase pain tolerance, reduce stress, anxiety, tension anger, confusion and depression.
They also improve appetite control, produce a feeling of calm, pleasure, and well-being.
Endorphins can increase up to five times during exercise lasting 30 minutes or more. After several months of exercise, the body develops a greater sensitivity to endorphins. A higher “high” from the same level of endorphins. Plus endorphins tend to stay in your blood for a longer period. This makes longer duration exercise easier (you’re feeling less pain!), and it causes your exercise “high” to last for a longer period after exercise.
Serotonin – the ‘hormone of happiness.’
Serotonin is an essential hormone controlling our general mood. It is also involved in regulation of.
- sleep patterns
- appetite and behaviour
- body temperature.
Serotonin comes from the pineal gland which lies deep at the centre of the brain. Serotonin levels become low because of.
- Emotional or physical pressures
- Poor diet
- Too much alcohol or caffeine
- Smoking and no exercise.
- Low levels of serotonin are associated with:
- feelings of worthlessness
While diet and healthy lifestyle, in general, will help to improve serotonin levels. The most efficient way of raising it is with regular exercise.
Studies have shown serotonin levels increase with increased aerobic activity after 20-30 minutes. The production of serotonin stays increased for some days after the activity.
Exercise is a great way to increase serotonin and maintain a feeling of ‘happiness’ and joie de vivre.
Dopamine – the ‘pleasure’ hormone
- Dopamine has many functions including.
- Feelings of pleasure and enjoyment
- motivation reward and positive behaviour.
Dopamine has a significant role in muscle movement control and coordination. Low levels of dopamine in certain parts of the brain linked to Parkinson disease.
Dopamine also helps regulate the feelings of fullness when we eat. That way we eat until we’re comfortable and don’t overindulge.
A study indicated that obese individuals have fewer dopamine receptors in the brain. The result is obese people eat more to try to stimulate the dopamine in their brains.
Studies have also shown that exercise can increase the number of dopamine receptors.
This has led scientists to suggest people could boost dopamine through exercise instead of eating.
A 30-minute bout of vigorous exercise stimulates the release of dopamine. So, that’s why a regular 30-minute dose of exercise is an excellent ‘prescription’ to make you feel good!