I thought I had known for years why I like to exercise. My body always felt better (once I got over the initial muscle and joint achiness), and with my arthritic back, lets me function pseudo-normally. My brain always feels more relaxed, at ease, and more focused. I know all about the body’s physiology-I spent nearly 10 years in school learning about that. But that really is only part of the story. What is really amazing is all of the new research on exercises effects on the brain and gives credence to the vague terms “endorphins or runners high” used to describe the sense of euphoria after a hardy workout session.
While it’s true that endorphins mimic morphine and help block pain receptors in the spine, they have a more difficult time crossing what is known as the “blood brain barrier.” This barrier is like a membrane separating circulating blood from the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF), keeping bacteria and other agents out of the brain. The endorphin molecule is too large to pass through. New research is showing that neurotransmitters known as endocannabinoids, are produced in the body and brain when we exercise, and activate receptors which block pain. They also exert a direct effect on dopamine release , which stimulates our pleasure centers (it’s the same way marijuana works without the side-effects), and combined with endorphins, act as extra-strength pain relievers for the body. Doctors are now starting to use one of these endocannabinoids, anandamide, to treat fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Studies also show that by slowing increasing exercise levels can relieve pain and fatigue associated with these syndromes. It’s no wonder then, why I feel so good, both mentally and physically, after exercise. The hardest part is getting started. Other than that, there should be no excuses.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.
PS: If you haven’t picked up a copy of “SPARK” yet-please do so. It’s a great read and a wealth of information by Dr. John Ratey