Exhilaration, well-being, accomplishment: these aren’t words we often associate with exercise. But if you exercise regularly, and you take the time to tune in to your emotions while you’re in motion and then when you stop, it’s likely you’ll be feeling pretty good. This is because ongoing exercise (thirty minutes or more) causes hormones (naturally occurring chemical messengers in your body) to kick in. And one of these key chemicals is endorphins. Produced in the pituitary gland, endorphins not only decrease your appetite, they also decrease depression, tension, and anxiety.
A natural high
Often described as “the body’s natural pain reliever,” endorphins hold the power to make you feel good — often to the point of elation and joy. More and more, studies are revealing that ongoing movement and motion is a drug-free strategy to defeat depression. A sampling:
• Breast cancer survivors, who did weight training twice weekly for a period of six months, were less depressed than prior to exercise.
• When adolescent females with mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms jogged for 50 minutes, at mild intensity, five times per week, their depression lessened; at the same time, stress hormones, such as cortisol (which can lead to weight gain), also decreased.
• To investigate changes in depressive symptoms in individuals with high blood pressure, researchers tracked participants as they did aerobic exercise over six months. The results revealed that those with mild to moderate depressive symptoms had significantly less depression.
Minutes, movement, and mood
These studies suggest that if you make exercise a regular part of your life, after several months, you’ll experience a super-high from endorphins. And it gets better: They’ll continue to circulate in your blood for quite a while after you’ve exercised. How much is enough to reap the depression-relieving rewards? Moderate-intensity exercise, which lasts between 20 to 30 minutes, is enough to produce the greatest increase of blood endorphins. But if you exercise to the point of exhaustion, the opposite occurs: endorphin levels drop dramatically.