Exercise: the story of how endorphins made me (un)happy/changed my disposition…


Yesterday a friend and I got into a long conversation about atoms, which ventured through some loop to finally end with the following: “its been more of a headache than a pleasure to make its (the world’s) acquaintance…”

His/her suggestion: get thee to a gym;  “Everything makes sense when you exercise and even when things aren’t good it is impossible to get to a place of feeling hopeless.”  Apparently, he/she offered a thesis shared by at least a few medical researchers. According to Sarah Frayne* from the Center of Applied Research,

Phenylethylamine [also found in chocolate] had previously been found to relieve depression in two thirds of depression cases. There are theories that relate a low level of phenylethylamine with the presence of depression making it a natural candidate for possible chemicals surrounding the anti-depressant effects of exercise… It is also notable that phenylethylamine has been able to boost moods as quickly as amphetamines, but without side effects or creating a tolerance to the chemical.

Ellen Billet of Nottingham Trent University studied the levels of phenylethylamine in 20 young men before and after exercising on a treadmill at 70 percent maximum heart-rate capacity. The men were asked to rate the level of exercise level they felt, and then were tested for phenylethylamine. Rise in the level of the chemical was around 77 percent with huge variances in levels between individuals.

It has become accepted in the scientific community that there is some sort of “runner’s high” or general mood elation associated with exercise on a physical level. The research to find the processes behind this phenomenon have all shown the immediate chemical levels of people after exercise. However, the lasting ability of these effects are largely important to depression treatment and an overall healthy happy lifestyle. Donna Kritz-Silverstein from UCSD, found that exercise must be done on a regular basis to maintain the positive effects. She found that those who exercised had a lower Beck Deppression Inventory (BDI) meaning they were generally in a better mood. Ten years later, those who had stopped exercising had BDIs similar to those who had never exercised, while those who continued to exercise were able to maintain a low BDI.

So, I decided to run a tad bit more than a thought experiment, myself being the subject.  

Thesis: Regimented exercise will, by way of downsizing my feelings of hopelessness, make me happier than I was two weeks ago. 

Method (of course its completely biased in all sorts of ways; for one, the subject of the study is the entity commissioning the study, so take the following with a grain of salt): I will jog for about 45 minutes every other day, while cutting off contact with this friend (rater #1) and a another (rater #2) for three full weeks, aside from a weekly recap, during which we will rehash some topic that is bound to leave me depressed. These two people were made aware of the fact that I would a) be exercising (as described) and b) offsetting each hour spent basking in my endorphins with something stressful like studying for the GRE, because its never too late to get a PhD in something useless.

I had one farewell conversation with each. Rater #1 and I left it at the atom discussion. Rater #2 and I discussed whether or not things we originally wanted to happen that happened during the recent past should be construed as evidence in favor of humans being in control of events or as merely coincidences. Both rated me on a scale from 1-10 in terms of how optimistic my thoughts on each respective subject tended to be. Each rater, coincidentally, gave me a 5.

Due to the fact that I plan to throw in some curveballs, and that this is not an anonymous site to the raters… I will post the results on Friday of week #3.

*Frayne, Sarah. Exercise and the “Runner’s High”: can it really make you happy?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: