Why running makes you happy

Mirjam Steunebrink
Mirjam Steunebrink Vrijdag, 2 oktober 2015
Why running makes you happy

Have you ever experienced an intense feeling of satisfaction, and sometimes even a high, during or after running? Where does that feeling come from? It has a lot to do with the production of endorphins: the so-called happiness hormones. Sports doctor Mirjam Steunebrink explains the role of endorphins and reveals five important effects.

Endorphins are the substances responsible for making you feel happy after physical activity. This happiness molecule was discovered in 1975 and works like an opiate – a natural drug that gives a feeling of well-being and euphoria and provides a sense of serenity and strength. Happiness hormones are produced and released by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain, both during exercise, but also for many hours afterwards. They are then distributed through the central nervous system, through the bloodstream and into the tissues, ending up everywhere in the body.

How much endorphins?

The quantity of endorphins your brain produces depends on numerous factors including the type of sport and the duration and intensity of the physical exertion. To release an optimum amount of endorphins, research has shown that you should exercise for at least 30-45 minutes at a comfortable endurance pace; the pace at which you can still talk. This can produce up to five times more endorphins than when you are at rest. So, the next time you plop down on the couch feeling too exhausted to train, the information above will be enough to get you going, right?

Five key effects of endorphins

  1. Endorphins have an antalgic effect and thus increase the pain threshold. This effect lasts up to four hours after exercise and makes you less sensitive to muscle pain and other complaints, so you can keep running longer. However, the disadvantage is that you may also miss the warning signs of injuries. Therefore, pay close attention to how you feel before and especially well after running.
  2. The effect of endorphins on the heart and airways means you are less likely to run out of breath and can sustain a more intensive effort for longer.
  3. Endorphins have a fear-inhibiting effect and thus reduce negative emotions and feelings. This in turn reduces stress. To trigger this effect, you must train for at least 20 minutes at 70% of your maximum heart rate.
  4. Endorphins are proven antidepressants; they are natural mood enhancers.
  5. Endorphins strengthen the immune system and are therefore good for your resistance.

Love, laughter and chocolate

Apart from intensive exercise, you can also get your daily dose of endorphins in other ways, such as by being nice to someone else or by taking time for yoga or meditation. Laughter also works like a charm in increasing endorphin levels. If you like spicy food, you’re also on the right track – the spicy ingredients in hot peppers and similar foods activate the pain receptors in the mouth, causing endorphins to be released. Dark chocolate also boosts endorphin levels due to the flavonoids contained in the cocoa powder and dark chocolate. Go for products that contain at least 70% cocoa.

Mirjam Steunebrink
Geschreven door

Mirjam Steunebrink

Mirjam Steunebrink is sportarts bij Martini Sportmedisch Centrum in Groningen en Sportgeneeskunde Friesland en begeleidend arts tijdens juniorenkampioenschappen van de Atletiekunie. Mirjam is zelf een fervent hardloopster.