You do fitness and supposedly it’s endorphins that make you all happy and yummy about it. Really? Or is it something that was considered illegal not long ago?
Is It The Endorphin Or Not?
Most people know the endorphin effect in fitness as the “runner’s high,” but it also happens when weightlifting: a feeling of bliss and happiness.
Claims go as far as saying that it’s strong enough to make you dependent. The body’s endorphins, after all, are the more friendly aunties of morphine, nature’s strongest analgesic drug, most commonly found in opium.
But wait a minute! How does an analgesic that reduces pain induce a high? Does that even work?
Endocannabinoids, Serotonin, Dopamine, Adrenaline
Despite 40 years of declarations that endorphins are responsible for the runner’s high, the evidence is slim. So far only one study claims to have found a difference in endorphin level after a run.
Your brain on fitness produces stuff much more likely responsible, an entire rowdy band of it:
- Endocannabinoids, the body’s answer to marijuana, as the name hints. Like endorphin they make you feel less pain, but also raise subjective well-being
- Serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that influences mood
- Dopamine, another hormone, that plays the strings of the brain’s reward and pleasure centers
- Adrenaline and noradrenaline, responsible for making your body ready for “fight or flight”
It is not a hormone solo getting into action when you go running or weightlifting, it’s a concert.
Or Is it The Rhythm?
But we still have one candidate left, one that sounds a bit esoteric.
Why do some people start tapping their fingers when nervous? Why do others steadily rock forth and back when they feel pain? The answer is that rhythm seems to sooth the brain. There’s even a school of psychotherapy that uses this to treat people with a severe trauma.
In eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, the therapist asks you to recall a trauma, while he steadily moves his fingers in front of your eyes and asks you to follow them. Slowly he then guides you to happier thoughts. Some therapists don’t do it with fingers, but with rhythmic music or, yes, tapping the feet.
When you regularly go running you know that the steady tap tap has a lulling and soothing effect so strong that stopping seems more trouble than simply going on.
Maybe the Energizer bunny didn’t keep going because of the battery, but just couldn’t help itself.
What About You?
Saying that endorphin is responsible for you feeling good during or after sports is too simplistic. Then again, what counts is that you do feel good, no matter the reason.
But, tell me, how do you feel during and after a run?
Picture courtesy of Celso Flores.