You’ve probably heard people talk about a “high” they get during exercise and, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you might think they sound crazy. How does being out of breath with sore muscles make somebody feel good? But it turns out there’s a real reason behind it, and that is the release of endorphins.
What are endorphins?
These are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that work with our opiate receptors to produce pharmacological effects such as pain relief, just as opiates like morphine do. There are two main things that make our bodies release endorphins: stress and pain, but these chemicals are also directly linked to pleasure because they make us feel great.
There are all kinds of ways to trick your brain into producing endorphins, from eating spicy food (your brain interprets that hot-pepper burn on your tongue as pain) to having sex (orgasms are directly linked to the release of endorphins).
When it comes to exercise, the old adage “no pain, no gain” really does seem to ring true -that feeling of being out of breath with sweat rolling down your back and your abs burning? That’s exactly what leads to the release of endorphins – the stress and pain of physical exercise trigger your brain to produce its natural painkillers – endorphins. However, do be careful not to overdo it when exercising. Don’t push yourself to the point of injury and always check your form, particularly when weightlifting.
“Our body’s release [endorphins] to essentially keep us going,” explains Kyle Sharp, a Toronto-based personal trainer and owner of SHARP fitness.
“We’re designed to move. We have knees, we have ankles, and we’re supposed to move, so it’s almost like it’s our body’s way of helping us stay motivated, so when we do something good for the body, the body does something good for us.”
That built-in reward of powerful good feelings can help us push through a workout even when it’s tough or motivate us to get active on those days when we’re feeling lazy.
Sharp understands it can be difficult to enjoy exercise, particularly for beginners, so he offers three tips to reach that endorphin-rich happy place during your workout.
1 - Consistency.
“Consistency with anything is going to get you to your goal,” Sharp says. Don’t give up after one workout. Set small, manageable goals for yourself and keep trying.
When you feel like giving up, like during the hardest part of your workout, Sharp says, think about your “why.”
“A simple reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing is typically all it takes to get that second wind and get that energy back,” he says.
2 - Mindfulness.
“Think about any time you’ve been very, very happy or feeling good, it’s always usually related to the fact that you’re present,” says Sharp.
“You’re not thinking about the past; you’re not thinking about the future. You’re really, fully invested in the moment. For me, personally, that’s what endorphins do.. There’s no stress and anxiety when you’re exercising, you’re doing it right and you’re feeling good.”
3 - Variety.
“Try different things,” Sharp says, until you find the type of exercise that you enjoy and find fun – keyword, fun. “It shouldn’t be a chore,” he says. “Exercise is self-love.”