Endorphins, neurotransmitters that are found in the pituitary gland and throughout the nervous system, are the body's natural pain medication. They interact with human opiate receptors, which reduces your perception of pain. Endorphins, like serotonin, are commonly produced in response to stress and pain, but there is increasing evidence that they are also produced during exercise.
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Why Exercise Causes Endorphin Release
Exercise has long been known to cause the release of endorphins. Why this happens is still unclear. HealthCentral.com states that the brain may perceive exercise as a type of pain and therefore it releases serotonin and other endorphins. Another possible theory is that the rise in fatty acids caused by exercise may acidify the blood, triggering endorphin release.
How Much Exercise Is Needed?
Many people think that you must exercise an exorbitant amount of time to trigger endorphin release; however, moderate amounts of exercise lasting 20 to 30 minutes can cause endorphin release. In fact, if you are new to exercising you may experience stronger effects of endorphins than someone who has regularly been exercising, since your brain is not used to the endorphin rush.
Effects on Mood
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters implicated in depression. In fact, many anti-depressants are designed to increase the serotonin levels in the brain. According to Harvard Health Publications, exercise may be an effective way to help improve your mood. By releasing serotonin and other endorphins, exercise can be useful in treating depression.
Based on the above evidence, you might think that the harder you exercise the more endorphins you will release. However, according to Healthcentral.com, when you exercise to exhaustion your endorphin level drops automatically. Gradual, aerobic exercise is much more effective for inducing the release of endorphins.
Types of Exercise
You may have heard that running is the only way to cause the release of serotonin and other endorphins. While it is true that the majority of research on exercise-induced serotonin release has been performed on runners, this does not mean other forms of exercise are ineffective. Any form of aerobic exercise will release serotonin and other endorphins, which can lead to a feeling of well being.