Endorphins After Exercise Are Your New Happiness Fix

woman on the beach with arms outstretched
Thanks to endorphins, running was found to be comparable to psychotherapy in helping to alleviate symptoms of depression. Here's what you need to know about your "happy hormones" and what they're doing behind the scenes.

by Cheryl S. Grant

Ever hang around folks who exercise regularly? You may have heard them use terms such as "runner's high" or "endorphin rush" to describe the improved mood they feel after going for a run or jog. That sensation is real!

Now, most of us have a basic understanding of what physically happens to our bodies when we work out — we might build muscle or improve our heart health. Gradually, our endurance improves and some workouts become easier to complete. But there's more at play.

While you may credit a rush of endorphins after exercise for your enhanced mood, the reason you experience that feeling (and its overall effect on your emotions and brain) might not be as obvious. Here's what you need to know about your "happy hormones" and what they're doing behind the scenes to help create that post-workout bliss.

So What Are Endorphins, Exactly?

By now, you have probably heard of the "fight or flight response" that we experience when our bodies are under stress. We have this same reaction whenever we feel discomfort.

Endorphins — which our body produces during taxing moments — can actually mitigate our pain as well as trigger an overall feeling of euphoria. In fact,experts equate the effects of endorphins on our minds and bodies to that of opiates. It seems that endorphins "chemically resemble" prescription opioids like painkillers and morphine, and can activate the receptors in our brains that hinder pain and help us feel good, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Proof Positive Benefits

The idea that our bodies release endorphins after exercise isn't a new one. In fact, researchers have found that exercising regularly is the best way to reap the mood-lifting effect of endorphins. After studying three groups of volunteers, they found that those who worked out regularly scored better on memory tests and had reduced symptoms of anxiety.

But that doesn't mean you have to quit your job and spend every waking moment in the gym. According to Gretchen Reynolds, author of "The First 20 Minutes," it only takes 20 minutes of exercise a day to enjoy a mood boost and, ultimately, extend your life. Seems like a pretty sweet deal!

Endorphins Jog Your Memory (Literally)

So, what can you do in the gym to benefit from the proven endorphin effect? For starters, hopping on the treadmill can help you break through "the blahs." In fact, running was found to be comparable to psychotherapy in helping to alleviate symptoms of depression.

Not into cardio? Strength training can serve as a mood-booster as well. In clinical trials that examined more than 1,800 participants, resistance training significantly reduced symptoms of depression. It was noted that just one hour of weekly training can keep the blues at bay!

A mere 20 minutes in the gym and you can enjoy the wonderful effects of endorphins: sharpened memory, improved mood, and extended life span. And you don't have to choose between cardio or strength training — any form of exercise can help.

So, gather your workout gear and prepare to head to the gym for your daily dose of endorphins. A good mood awaits! As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.