“When you release endorphins, you just feel good!”
I felt like I was floating at one point. I looked down at my ASICS running shoes hitting the dirt path to see if my legs were still attached to my body; sure enough, there they were.
That euphoric moment was twelve years ago when I started distance running. I was experiencing my first “runner’s high” and I did not want it to stop. I felt this huge boost of energy come out of nowhere, my legs and feet no longer hurt and I couldn’t believe how clear my mind was.
That high did not end when I took off my running shoes, it stayed with me most of the day. I had a smile on my face, sure my body hurt because it was the first time I had run 8 miles, but I was energized, happy, accomplished and calm.
“Some even describing a “runner’s high” as an intense, blissful emotional experience similar to an orgasm…”
Endorphins are chemicals that act a lot like medically engineered opioids. Endorphin production is one of the ways that our bodies respond to physical discomfort, such as a long run. Runners have credited them for their feel-good effects for decades, some even describing a “runner’s high” as an intense, blissful emotional experience similar to an orgasm (I wouldn’t go that far, but hey…let’s see what happens on my next long run!)
Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers produced in response to physical discomfort. However, they also play an important role in reducing stress and anxiety. Something all of us probably have a little more of these days due to the global pandemic that has thrown many metaphorical wrenches into most things.
Prior to COVID-19, we have seen them on television, in our news feeds on social media or even that commercial that pops up that you can’t skip when you are trying to watch a YouTube video. What am I talking about? Ads for 24 Hour Fitness, Barr Fitness Classes, Beach Body On Demand or the most recent craze, Peloton.
“Only 19% of women and 26% of men currently meet the CDC’s
physical activity guidelines…”
We constantly are hearing advertisements for ways to get in shape and stay healthy (both physically and mentally) by moving our bodies. Yet according to the Department of Health, only 19% of women and 26% of men currently meet the CDC’s physical activity guidelines that recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. And there is a good chance that has reduced since COVID-19 entered our lives.
Due to what the world is facing, exercising might not be top of mind, even though we know physical activity is one of the most powerful forces for good health; physically, mentally and emotionally.
Physical activity affects our bodies is so many ways. Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension and anxiety, reduce stress, improve sleep, and give you more energy. Only five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Just a few mental benefits of exercise:
- Reduce Stress: Increasing your heart rate can actually reverse stress by stimulating healthy levels of norepinephrine. Exercise forces the body’s central and sympathetic nervous systems to communicate with one another, improving the body’s overall ability to respond to stress.
- Sleep Better: Physical activity increases the body temperature which can have a calming affect on the mind. Exercise also helps regulate our circadian rhythm which controls when we feel tired and alert.
- Alleviate Anxiety: Here are those endorphins! Exercise has been shown to be more successful at reducing anxiety than a bubble bath, and I love my bubble baths!
- More Energy: When we exercise our blood flow increases which helps carry oxygen to our muscles and makes us more alert. I personally don’t recommend working out hard right before bed, for me morning workouts get me moving for the day.
Heading to the gym is not an option right now for most and perhaps you aren’t someone who wants to go run 8 miles. However, there are a lot of little things you can do that don’t take a ton of time to keep your body moving. 60 minutes is great but 30 minutes is better than 15 minutes, and even 15 minutes is better than 0 minutes. So, let’s get moving!
A few fun ideas:
- Do 60 seconds of jumping jacks when you get out of bed in the morning.
- Go on a walk around the block but skip every 2 minutes to get your heartrate up.
- Bring Sally Up, Bring Sally Down: click the link, you might hate me though if you do this one!
- Do FaceTime pushups or situps: Pick a friend who will bust them out with you before you hang up.
- Have a baby? Do some “bench” presses with them. No baby, grab whatever you have (but maybe not a cat).
- You are supposed to brush your teeth a minimum of twice a day for 2 minutes. Try holding a squat that whole time!
- Cleaning the house today? Try walking with high knees while you are moving around the house (and BTW cleaning the house burns about 200 calories an hour, sans high knees).
- Really into a Netflix series? Try doing a 30-60 second plank every time to have to hit pause to refresh your glass of water or go pee!
My Achilles has a bit more healing to do before I can put my running shoes back on, but I’m finding other ways to keep my body moving. On the days that I slack, I definitely feel the effects of what we are all facing a little more.
Not that busting out 20 pushups or breaking a sweat with Tony Horton on P90X fixes the realities of the world, but getting my heart rate pumping and my blood moving sure helps me focus more and dials my anxiety back a few notches.
I believe in the healing benefits of finding moments of stillness, but I also believe that moving our bodies (even when we might have to push ourselves a bit) is a medicine we don’t need a prescription for. I certainly am looking forward to my “runner’s high” again soon, but until then, part of my self-care regimen is to keep my body moving and producing those natural, amazing endorphins that can’t be bottled.
Remember, You Got This!