…You’ve got a perfect one. However, there may be more you can do with your body to reduce stress or treat depression. We’ve all heard a well-meaning friend or relative say “You seem tense– you should go work out.” There’s more truth in those words than you may know.
Beyond the obvious– exercise is good for your body and, therefore, good for your overall health– exercise can produce a feeling of euphoria, often called a “runner’s high,” caused by endorphins. Endorphins are a neurotransmitter produced to regulate pain. Endorphins are often called “natural opiates” which indicates their ability to trigger a euphoric response in addition to their pain regulating purpose. According to a neuroscience study done in Germany, long distance running triggers the release of endorphins, which travel to the limbic and prefrontal regions of the brain. These areas are also associated with the euphoric feeling of being in love.
Another study mentioned by Harvard Health Publications describes a study with three groups of participants, all of whom suffered from depression. The first was treated with only Zoloft, the second only with aerobic exercise, and the third with both. After several weeks of this trial, a majority of the participants no longer suffered from Major Depressive Disorder. Several years later, there was a follow-up with the participants. Those who continued to exercise regularly were less likely to be suffering from the symptoms of their depression.
These studies indicate two things about exercise. The first is that exercise releases feel-good endorphins to the brain, making exercise a viable option with which to treat depression. The second is that exercise provides a long-term treatment option for those suffering from depression without the negative long-term effects which may be associated with antidepressants.
But how can someone replicate these effects for themselves? This euphoric feeling is intrinsically associated with running– the “runner’s high”– and emphasizing the endurance related with long-distance and marathon running. However, for the less seasoned athlete it seems that setting goals (perhaps running 1.5 miles in fifteen minutes) is a reasonable goal. Training helps to build up a longer-term endorphin release and, eventually, the satisfaction of reaching a goal with help to influence even more joy. Other activities to consider may be rowing, dancing, or simply brisk walking.
However, when using exercise as a mood regulator, it is important to avoid physical injury. Otherwise, indicated by the high amount of happy marathon runners, the sky is the limit when using your body to help your mind.
For more information on endorphins you may want to check out
“Endorphins.” GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. N.p., 15 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 June 2015.
“Exercise and Depression – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2015.
Kolata, Gina. “Yes, Running Can Make You High.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2008. Web. 22 June 2015.