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Exer-Gasm: The Happy Effects of Working Out

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Life today can be super hard. If you aren’t organised, a full workload, family, and personal needs can force us into depression. At times, even if you are organised, you may find yourself there. When you are feeling down, there is no way you want to work. Sometimes depression (at any level) can be a heavy weight to lift. Let this article encourage you to get up and make working out your go-to source for the ‘good feeling’ you need to boost your mood.

There are four main chemicals in your brain responsible for feelings of happiness: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. Hormones act as messengers for your body and regulate everything.  These four are called your “happy hormones,” but only one is truly an actual hormone: oxytocin.

Let’s start with oxytocin. If you have ever breastfed, this is the hormone you may be most familiar with; it’s needed to assist with having a “let-down”. Some may recommend holding a family picture and watching it while your baby nurses. This hormone is not only connected to lactation but also maternal behavior and sexual pleasure. It’s created in the brain’s ‘command center’. The hypothalamus is released via the pituitary gland.

Endorphins are molecules. They are produced by the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus. These molecules affect the brain’s opiate receptors in the same manner as opioid-based drugs. They are responsible for that ‘happy feeling’ you get whenever you do something you like. Think of endorphins as natural morphine for the body. The good thing about them is that, unlike morphine, you will not become addicted or dependant on endorphins.

If you have ever taken a run, you will recall this extra boost you felt when you were done. This is referred to as a “runner high.” The natural pain relief from endorphins minimises any pain and maximises pleasure. This is the main reason athletes can push aside any pain during a big game or long/difficult race.

Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help your brain send messages to different parts of the body so they can communicate with one another using your nervous system. Serotonin is needed to regulate your sleep, appetite, and mood. Without enough, you may live in a constant state of depression. Dopamine is needed for physical movement and is crucial for your well-being; it’s a major player in the brain’s reward system, and it influences motivation.

 

Working out or exercising has been linked to increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. When you are depressed (low serotonin), exercising lifts your spirits. This is why it’s good to ‘force’ a workout, even when you don’t feel like it. At the end of it, most (if not all) of the sadness is depleted, and any pain you have is numbed because of the morphine-like relief caused by endorphins. You’ll feel good about the workout and will almost always be glad you did it – because oxytocin will be released. This will motivate you to continue going after this feeling due to the increase in dopamine.

After about a week of exercising, the reward system kicks in (dopamine is increased), and days without depression are more frequent (serotonin). If you aren’t careful, exercise can quickly become the next thing you are addicted to, which isn’t so bad – except when you use it to avoid fostering coping skills.

Each successful workout will give you your ‘ahh’ moment, similar to the satisfaction you get after a…well, just get you an exer-gasm with no strings attached.

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