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Exercise and "The Endorphin Rush"

Updated on February 28, 2007

Exercise for Happiness

We've known for a long time about the benefits of exercise as a way to enhance our physical condition and combat disease; but it hasn't been until more recently that exercise is being recognized as an element in maintaining mental fitness. Studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which in turn cause us to have what is commonly know as a "natural high" or a "runners high". You may not realize what caused it, but most of us have felt it. Whether we're engaged in a leisurely swim or an adrenaline-charged rock climb, there is that moment when suddenly pain or discomfort drops away and we are filled with a sense of euphoria. We have endorphins to thank for these moments of bliss.

The Psychological Benefits of Exercise

  • Physical activity is increasingly becoming part of the prescription for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Exercise alone is not a cure, but it does have a positive impact.
  • Research has found that regular physical activity appears as effective as psychotherapy for treating mild to moderate depression. Therapists also report that patients who exercise regularly simply feel better and are less likely to overeat or abuse alcohol and drugs.
  • Exercise can reduce anxiety - many studies have come to this conclusion. People who exercise report feeling less stressed or nervous. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise (exercise which requires oxygen, such as a step class, swimming, walking) can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
  • Physical exercise helps to counteract the withdrawal, inactivity and feelings of hopelessness that characterize depression. Studies show that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise (exercise which does not require oxygen, such as weightlifting) have anti-depressive effects.
  • Moods such as tension, fatigue, anger and vigor are all positively affected by exercise.
  • Exercising can improve the way you perceive your physical condition, athletic abilities and body image. Enhanced self-esteem is another benefit.
  • Last, but not least, exercise brings you into contact with other people in a non-clinical, positive environment. For the length of your walk or workout or aqua-fit class, you engage with people who share your interest in that activity.

Endorphins

Endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain, which bind to neuro-receptors to give relief from pain. Discovered in 1975, endorphins are believed to: relieve pain; enhance the immune system; reduce stress; and delay the aging process. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, sending these chemicals throughout the body. Endorphin release varies from person to person; some people will feel an endorphin rush, or second wind, after jogging for 10 minutes. Others will jog for half an hour before their second wind kicks in. You don't have to exercise vigorously to stimulate endorphin release: meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even eating spicy food or breathing deeply - these all cause your body to produce endorphins naturally.

Exercise is a powerful drug. It seduces many with its zen-like state a feeling that was fondly coined the "runner's high" in the 1970s. The lure of exercise is often so strong that it can turn enthusiasts into addicts.

Feel the Rush

The following are several work-out is specifically designed to trigger hormone release in your body. This workout does not target a specific muscle group or area of the body, rather it works the overall body and increase the workout.

1- Treadmill (or other aerobic machine)

Perform a 5-minute warm-up at a comfortable speed. Then, every 3 minutes, increase both the speed and difficulty. Incline the treadmill one increment and increase speed. On a bike, increase the resistance and maintain the same cadence. Do this 4 times so that you perform the 5-minute warm-up followed by 12 more minutes of ever-increasing intensity.

2- Bench press

Grip the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Perform 10 reps with the heaviest weight you can manage. If you still insist on doing full range movements, go ahead. If you've learned the benefits of partial rep, strong range training, you're better off doing all reps that way because it's safer and you can use more weight. More weight = more endorphins. Rest for 15 seconds, then perform a second set to failure.

3- Deadlift

Grip the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Perform 10 reps with the heaviest weight you can manage. Again, rest for 15 seconds, then perform a second set to failure.

4- Leg press (or squats)

If squats are like a religion to you, go ahead and do them. But the fact is that leg presses are far more demanding on the large muscles of the legs. They are also far less prone to cause injury. Load the leg press with the maximum amount of weight you can handle for 10 reps. Rest for 15 seconds, then perform a second set to failure. Rest for another 15 seconds, then perform a third set to failure. And you're done.

Thirty to 60 minutes after you complete this workout, you will feel a mild sense of euphoria and a higher energy level. You will also likely sleep better that night and feel more energetic the next day.

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