Exercise, while pretty important for our health, isn’t always at the top of our priority list. But what if you knew that exercising could bring you a rush of feel-good chemicals that not only makes exercise easier, but also relieves a whole host of unpleasant symptoms? That’s the magic of endorphins, which are released from exercise (among other things) and bring us countless good tidings. Whether you’re just starting a new exercise program or are looking to become an “endorphin junkie”, we’ve broken it down to make that elusive workout high a little less mysterious.
1. What are Endorphins?
When you work out, your body produces chemicals called endorphins that actually trick your brain into reducing your perceived pain. They also act as a sedative, which can help reduce your stress and anxiety. Endorphins actually have the same structure as morphine, which might explain why they make us feel so good. Endorphins generally give you a sense of euphoria and vigour, especially after completing a particularly tough workout (basically a reward for making your body do something it really didn’t want to do).
2. Exercising for Endorphins
All exercise is generally good exercise, but some workouts might be better at releasing endorphins. If you’re not a fan of exercising, it might be a good idea to start with these types of exercise to help you find the joy in working out. Unfortunately, endorphins don’t just start to flow the minute you pick up a dumbbell; you need continuous, intense exercise to really trigger that physiological response. After all, your brain produces endorphins during intense stress or pain, so a few ab crunches won’t quite cut it.
Long-distance runs are definitely a good option (hence the phrase “runner’s high”), but research shows that group exercise could be even more beneficial for inducing that buzz. After all, we tend to push ourselves more in a group setting than on our own, which might get us to the prolonged, intense exercise that triggers those wonderful endorphins we crave. In fact, a 2009 study showed that groups that rowed together experienced more of an endorphin surge than those who rowed alone. Hey, why suffer alone if you don’t have to, right? A 2017 Finnish study showed that HIIT (high intensity interval training) significantly increased the release of endorphins, which could mean that short burst of intense exercise followed by recovery time in cycles is your best bet to achieving that elusive high.
3. Exercising Regularly
Lucky for us, we have a pretty good motivator to keep exercising. Looking forward to the infamous rush of endorphins post workout is definitely a good reason to drag yourself to the gym at 6 a.m., but it’s hard to motivate yourself if you’ve never experienced it. Setting yourself up for the “high” isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely worth it. The sweet spot seems to be between 1-2 hours of intense but sustainable exercise. Keeping your heart rate steady is key; rhythmic exercise is found to be a good way to get to the endorphin high, which is why running, cycling, rowing and swimming usually come up when there’s talk about endorphins. Since that endorphin rush is only temporary (like all good things in life), it’s important to keep up with a regular exercise routine.
4. Other Benefits
Exercise isn’t just about getting a sweet rush of endorphins. It’s about the whole host of other benefits that come with it too; that sense of euphoria is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only do endorphins reduce your feeling of pain, but because they also fight stress and anxiety, they’ll helps reduce your blood pressure as well. You’ll likely notice improved sleep, since endorphins are a natural relaxant. At the end of the day, you’re going to feel a general sense of well-being, which becomes that infamous post-workout glow we’ve all been chasing.