The chemical profile of one workout.
Physical exercise can influence our lives in many different ways. From basic activities, like walking an hour per day, to more intense exercises, like lifting weights at the gym; our body and brain experience a sense of well-being that induces numerous biological benefits, which are not only related to mass growth, blood flow increase, or fat loss.
The situation, indeed, is more interesting than it might appear at a first glance.
It is known that1 insufficient physical exercise can lead to diverse issues, such as obesity and osteoporosis, just to cite a few.
However, new studies have proven that even normal level of exercise is not only useful to reduce the risks of developing some diseases, but it is also important to produce positive effects on our brain and mental health.
Exercise and Mental Health
The link between physical activity and healthy life has caught scientists’ attention for years. Although the neuroscience of exercise is a growing area of research, and there is still a lot to discover, many interesting results have been demonstrated in the last two decades. 2
Even though more studies are mainly conducted on animals, they still provide essential achievements that can be adapted to humans.
When we talk about exercise and its effects on our brain and mental health, we shall distinguish between two distinct categories:
- the effects that a single session of exercise has on our brain, and
- the effects of chronic engagement in exercise.
Today’s topic is the effects of a single session.
- What happens to our brain when we exercise?
- Are there any effects of training in our mental health?
- What is the chemical profile of a single workout?
The Chemical Profile of One Workout
In general, someone can claim that an acute session of exercise relieves anxiety and makes us feel more alert. This is because major neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, and norepinephrine, are modulated by physical activities.2
However, we need to dive deeper to have a better understanding. So, let’s create the chemical profile of a workout.
We all acknowledge the importance of keeping the levels of serotonin balanced. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter whose deficiency causes the main “bad-mood” feelings.
Just so you know, people who are depressed often have low levels of serotonin. That’s why most anti-depressants medications are based on raising serotonin levels.3
So here it is, the first piece of our puzzle. Serotonin; this happy chemical is released during, and after physical activity, even with a 15min walk.
So, even on days that you don’t feel like getting out of bed to pump iron; if you do it, most probably it will cheer up your spirit and energy.
Dopamine is another “Happy Chemical” and more particularly the “Reward & Motivation Chemical”.
During and after an exercise session your dopamine levels are raised. You will benefit from this increase in two ways:
- Dopamine release as a physical reaction during the workout4, and
- Dopamine release as a reward after finishing your target (=workout).
The production of dopamine then leads to a sense of well-being. You now walk through a more motivated, positive, and meaningful state. I am sure that ma fitness junkies out there will relate to this experience.
Exercise and especially high-intensity exercise triggers the production of Norepinephrine.
Norepinephrine (or Nor-Adrenaline when it’s released from the adrenal glands) is responsible for alertness during and post the training session.
Moreover, improves focus, attention, and even boosts memory retrieval. Just in case you wanted some good reasons to start your day with a good workout.
You know opioids, right? The substances, such as morphine, methadone, and oxycodone, that bind to special brain receptors and as a result block pain signals.
But, did you know that your body can produce its own opioid-like substances?
Well, endorphins are the products of your opioid production line. They are not opioids but they act like them since they bind to the same receptors, relieving stress and pain.
When you are exercising your body is flooded with these feel-good substances which not only cheer your mood up but they are also painkillers.
In the same context, it has been shown5 that exercise (and, in particular, endurance exercise) activates the endocannabinoid system. It is the lipid system that acts as a modulator in the brain, immune and endocrine tissue.
You know the famous “Runner’s High”, a deep euphoric state following an intense exercise that lasts so little. For many years scientists believed that it was an effect of endorphins release, but now it seems that is not true. Endocannabinoids appear to have the main role here.5,6
I usually experience runner’s high after a good 5km run at a nice location during sunset. Believe me, that short-lasting moment is unforgettable!
The serum concentration in endocannabinoids increases during physical activity, therefore triggering the brain’s reward system.7 And what triggers the brain’s reward system, you, now, know that causes the release of dopamine with all the related benefits.
How magnificent it is, huh? So many things happen to our body and mind during just a simple exercise session. And we even didn’t take into account all the long-term effects.
Just remember, mental health matters and exercise is one of your best tools…
To conclude, a single workout will:
- enhance your mood
- motivate you
- boost your energy
- relieve you from pain and stress
- make you more alert and focused.
And you might be lucky enough to experience the euphoric state of “Runner’s high”.
So, what are you waiting for?
Are you still reading this crap?
Grab your sports shorts and hit the gym.
- Dishman RK, Berthoud HR, Booth FW, et al. Neurobiology of exercise. Obesity.
- Portugal EMM, Cevada T, Sobral Monteiro-Junior R, et al. Neuroscience of exercise: From neurobiology mechanisms to mental health. Neuropsychobiology.
- Frazer A,Hensler JG. Serotonin. Basic Neurochemistry.
- Physical Exercise and Brain Monoamines: A Review.
- Dietrich A, McDaniel WF. Endocannabinoids and exercise. British Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Siebers M, Biedermann S v., Fuss J. Do Endocannabinoids Cause the Runner’s High? Evidence and Open Questions. Neuroscientist.
- Charytoniuk T, Zywno H, Konstantynowicz-Nowicka K, Berk K, Bzdega W, Chabowski A. Can physical activity support the endocannabinoid system in the preventive and therapeutic approach to neurological disorders? International Journal of Molecular Sciences.