Even the most dedicated gym bunny will sometimes need to make a real effort to get out of the house for exercise. We all know that there are plenty of good reasons to exercise, but motivation can still be an issue.
Mother Nature appears to have planned for this one, by rewarding effort with the so-called ‘exercise high’. This happy feeling is not just the result of knowing you’ve done something good for your body, but a real chemical effect. Like all the best rewards, it has to be earned in the right way.
It has long been known that opiate drugs block or reduce pain, due to the presence of cells in the body that are sensitive to these drugs. The evolutionary reason for this is believed to be that the body generates its own opiates during heavy exercise. This could have been to allow us the ‘fight or flight’ reflex without being stopped by pain from injuries.
In modern life, these opiate-type chemicals (endorphins) stop us feeling pain and allow us to enjoy a workout. If you’ve ever bruised yourself during sport and not noticed until afterwards – that’s an example of the exercise high in action.
It’s not just about feeling good during or just after the workout. The happy feeling from endorphins (plus a little bit of smugness about getting the workout done) reduces overall stress. That means lower blood pressure, more relaxed muscles and all the health benefits that go with these effects.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a proven way to burn more calories and build more muscle in less time. New research is also now indicating that HIIT may also generate more endorphins than ‘conventional’ workouts. This type of exercise mirrors ‘fight or flight’ and the endorphins help you to forget how hard you are working.
Any exercise will make you feel good about yourself, but HIIT may make you feel even better. Time to hit that gym!
Thar's interesting about opiates being released during exercise for fight or flight reasons. I have also heard of ultra-runners developing some kind of mental barrier against pain and instead focussing on positives such as how they are grateful for all the people helping them , and this helps them get through the pain.
I think I get that high after high intensity work, but I also get it after a long run. Basically, any exercise where I get out of breath and makes me sweat and glow red in the face seems to make me feel great.
never quite sure if I get the 'high' or if it is just the 'smug' from knowing that's the workout done for the day. 'high' is probably more sociable though!