Many people think the main reasons behind feeling better after exercise are down to an increase in endorphins. The harder the workout, the more endorphins, the better the feeling.. Sounds familiar right?
Well, contrary to the popular belief, there is actually little evidence to suggest an increase in endorphins after exercise are what bring about the positive, buzzed feeling many of us get. Although endorphins are present during exercise and are released as your body’s natural painkiller, they aren’t necessarily responsible for that feel good factor.
This was explored in an experiment where the receptors in the brain that receive endorphins were blocked, mood improvements following exercise were not reduced or eliminated, (Dishman & Conner, 2009). Scientists suggest this concept remains plausible, but it has been blown out of proportion by the media and consumer brands with little research evidence to back it up.
So you might be thinking, if endorphins don’t increase, then why do I feel so amazing after exercise? There are actually many other physiological, neurological and psychosocial changes that can happen after exercise that may enhance mood, including..
Exercise improves angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, which improves oxygen flow to the brain, which has mood boosting properties
Exercise blunts the cortisol response, cortisol is a stress hormone, if the effects of cortisol are reduced, feelings of stress may be reduced
Exercise improves feelings of self-efficacy, a situation specific form of self-confidence (Bandura, 1997), if you feel like you’re improving after an activity, your mood is boosted!
The reason exercise makes you feel good isn’t necessarily because of endorphins but also because you’re actually feeling the physical and psychological effects of exercise such as oxygenation, improved blood flow and stress reduction.