It is commonly known that exercise is good for promoting a healthy functioning body. Not only can it help strengthen muscles, it can improve cardiovascular health and help to support and maintain healthy bone density. However, what are the effects of exercise on the brain? Are endorphins responsible for the ‘buzz’ that keeps you coming back for more?
According to recent studies supported by the American psychological association (2020), it is shown that physical fitness plays an important role in boosting brain health. Consistency with exercise can help to decrease the effects of stress on the body, improve mood and mental health, support the immune system and even enhance cognition.
How does exercise do this?
Chronic stress can cause devastating effects on the human body, leading to disease, mental health problems, and medical conditions such as high blood pressure. It would seem then that physical exercise, also a stress on the body, would be counter productive to overall health. However, research shows that the right kind of stress can actually help the body to manage ‘bad stress’ and become more resilient. Research shows that stress initially spikes the stress hormones in the body, but after exercise, or with consistent exercise, the body retaliates and lowers the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine.
So are endorphins the cause of this response?
Endorphins are your body’s natural pain reliever, responsible for that feel good sensation or buzz you get after a tough training session. Endorphins are chemicals known as peptides produced by the pituitary gland and central nervous system. It is suggested that they act on the opiate receptors in your brain to increase feelings of pleasure and to reduce pain/ discomfort. These neurotransmitters (also known as hormones) are said to be a coping mechanism for intense exercise.
Recent studies shine a light on how hormones and feel good chemicals work in the brain, suggesting that the brain is learning to deal with stress more efficiently during exercise. Norepinephrine is the hormone responsible for direct stress response. So it could be argued that this hormone also plays an important part in the buzz we get from exercise since it increases heart rate, arousal and alertness in the body.
Adrenaline , alongside Norepinephrine, will also causes these physiological changes in the body in response to stress, as well as helping to break down fat and increase blood sugar levels to provide more energy to the body.
It is therefore suggested that exercise gives the body a chance to practice dealing with stress, therefore over time improving the stress response. Exercise forces the physiological systems to work more closely to deal with physical and mental stress. The true value of exercise is therefore suggested to help improve how your body communicates internally and therefore reacting more efficiently to external stress, physical and mental.
What are the benefits of Endorphins?
Endorphins produced during exercise reduce stress hormones and therefore have a number of benefits on the body; it is shown that endorphins can boost your mood, helping to reduce anxiety and alleviate depression, whilst also reducing pain and improving immune response. It is also said that endorphins help to regulate appetite.
Does Exercise intensity matter?
Studies also suggest higher intensity exercise increases positive effects on the body such as feelings of euphoria, increased energy. A lighter training session may produce significantly less stress therefore a slower bodily response.
What are the effects of low endorphins in the body?
If you do not produce enough endorphins you may find the following:
- Increased anxiety or depression
- Increased aches/ pains
- Problems with sleeping
- Impulsive behaviour and mood swings
What are the ways to increase endorphins in relation to exercise?
- Eat dark chocolate
- Listen to music
Overall, exercise is crucial for helping the body to perform at its best whilst reacting effectively to the stressors of everyday life, be it physical, mental or emotional stress. Whilst exercise can in the short term increase stress, long-term it helps the body to manage stress more efficiently providing that consistency with exercise is established.
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