Regular jogging can make you feel better because it improves your health and fitness -- giving you more energy -- an in-shape appearance and improved self-esteem. But many joggers experience feelings of happiness, and even euphoria, just from the exercise experience itself. Mood-enhancing hormones and neurotransmitters including endorphins, endocannabinoids, dopamine and serotonin released during long-term vigorous cardio exercise are the reason for this phenomenon.
How Jogging Produces Endorphins
Endorphins are pain-blocking hormones produced in the brain and sent into the bloodstream during times of pain or stress. Jogging is intense cardio exercise that puts continuous stress on the body, which causes the pituitary gland in the brain to release endorphins. The mood-elevating effects of endorphins can be more powerful than opium or morphine, and increase with level of fitness and intensity and frequency of exercise, according to Fit Day. This feel-good effect, also called “runners high,” can be strong motivation to stick to a regular workout program.
Endocannabinoids are a chemical compound similar to cannabis produced in the brain during exercise. It’s possible they contribute strongly to the improved mood you feel when jogging because they pass more easily from the brain to the body than endorphins. These powerful feel-better chemicals are being considered by the pharmaceutical industry as a possible treatment for depression, anxiety, pain, metabolism problems and addictions, according to Pharmacological Reviews. With jogging, you can experience the benefits of endocannabinoids without having to wait for the medical breakthroughs of the future.
Dopamine Enhances Memories
Jogging can make you feel better by improving your ability to remember happy times. Dopamine, another mood-enhancing hormone released by intense cardio exercise, improves long-term memory. Its function is to form long-lasting memories of happy and significant events. People who suffer from Parkinson’s disease have memory lapses and movement problems that have been traced to lack of dopamine, according to Science Daily. Dopamine stimulates the brain’s pleasure circuit and could be the reason some people become addicted to exercise, from Psychology Today. Whether that addiction is helpful or harmful is controversial, but it often leads to long-term fitness.
Serotonin’s Power to Lift Depression
According to the National Institutes of Health, the depression that many people suffer from is caused by a low level of serotonin brain activity. Healthy serotonin function produces good mood, agreeable behavior and decreased irritability. In a study by Dr. William M. Wilson and Charles A. Marsden published in Behavioral Pharmacology, cardio exercise was shown to increase serotonin levels in the brain during treadmill running. Dr. Kelly G. Lambert suggests that the growing frequency of depression in the modern world may be due to the decrease in physical activity required for survival.
- Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews: Rising rates of depression in today's society: consideration of the roles of effort-based rewards and enhanced resilience in day-to-day functioning
- Pharmacological Reviews: Chemical Probes of Endocannabinoid Metabolism
- Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: How to Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain without Drugs