Endorphins and the Truth About Why Exercise Makes You Happy.

May 29, 2023 | Teacher's Corner

If you’ve ever taken out a bad day at the office on the nearest treadmill, you know that working up a good sweat can easily turn your day around. And by now you’ve probably heard that endorphins are the magic bullet behind that post-workout bliss.

People love the feeling so much that “endorphin junkie” has even become synonymous with someone who is constantly chasing that exercise high. But while endorphins may get all the credit for your post-run buzz, there is actually a lot more going on behind the scenes.

When your body comes under stress or experiences pain Neurochemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Endorphins, which are structurally similar to the drug morphine, are considered natural painkiller because they activate opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort.

The idea that exercise creates a huge endorphin rush entered popular culture soon after endorphins were discovered over 40 years ago. Research also suggest that endorphin levels might not increase at all until and hour after you’ve started working out. Which doesn’t explain why those 30 minute HIIT sessions still leave you feeling awesome?

Scientists measure endorphins present in the blood – not the brain. Then they make the assumption that if endorphin levels rise in the blood, then it must be because of an increase of endorphins in the brain. But their findings don’t necessarily prove that. And it’s the endorphins in your brain that would be causing that “high”.

A German study found that while endorphin levels are higher after a run, endorphins can’t pass through the blood-brain barrier, which means that they probably don’t have much to do with experiencing an exercise high.

What does affect the brain, researchers found, was a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which is elevated after exercise and can travel from the blood to the brain.

Exercise Makes You Feel Happier, Eat Better, and Live With Purpose

So if you aren’t an endorphin junkie, then what are you? Well, you might be a serotonin or norepinephrine junkie. When you exercise, your brain increases production of these neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout your nervous system. In the case of exercise, those messages might be something along the lines of: “You’re exercising! This is Awesome! Cheer Up!
Whatever it is, we experience a “good” feeling after exercise so therefore…”Keep it up”


(Janet Diederiks)