Imagine going to see your doctor about your stress or anxiety levels. With the year we’ve had, I’m betting a LOT of us can easily picture it.
After an exam and brief chat, he hands you a prescription. But when you look down at the piece of paper instead of the “feel good” drugs you expect to see, it reads, “Go for a brisk 30-minute walk daily.”
You shouldn’t feel insulted or cheated. Instead, you should be happy your doc is up to date with the latest research. I know a prescription for regular exercise may not be sexy or sound “fun” at first. But it’s EXACTLY what the doctor SHOULD have ordered.
Because that “exercise high” we’ve all heard about so often has just been confirmed in a breakthrough human study. And it turns out it’s all thanks to a “cannabis-like” hormone we’re just beginning to understand.
You really CAN drive down anxiety and blow off stress by moving your body more. And you don’t need to run five miles or spend hours at the gym for it to work either. In fact, I’ll share one fun way you can produce this “natural high” that you’ll love in just a moment.
But first, let’s take a quick look at how researchers made this incredible discovery.
“Natural high” knocks down anxiety
The exercise or runner’s high is legendary. Folks who love to exercise (BLEECH) talk about it a lot. But now we know for sure that it’s not only real, but it’s essentially a fully legal natural high.
That’s right, your brain on exercise is a lot like your brain on marijuana but without any loopy feelings—just pure euphoria.
And that, of course, is the perfect antidote to stress, anxiety, or a good old-fashioned case of the blues.
Experts used to think that the happy feeling folks got after exercise could all be chalked up to endorphins. And it is true endorphins can give us a bit of boost, too, helping us feel good and masking pain.
But there was a problem with the theory that they were the only reason exercisers felt so fantastic. Endorphins don’t pass from our bloodstream into our brain all that easily.
This was why a group of German scientists was convinced there had to be something else at work. And they were right.
Endocannabinoids beat endorphins for anxiety
In a mouse experiment, they blocked the opioid receptors in the brain so endorphins couldn’t have any impact. Then they let the mice do what comes naturally to them… running. It turns out the critters love to run for fun. (Am I the only one picturing mice in teeny-tiny running shorts right now?)
And the mice STILL experienced those euphoric feelings after they exercised despite the lack of endorphins. Plus, their anxiety levels dropped.
It appears that the exercise high was due to natural endocannabinoids (eCBs) that were being produced by their own bodies. And unlike endorphins, eCBs seem made to easily make a move from the bloodstream to the brain.
The researchers then repeated the experiment with a small group of human volunteers who were regular runners or endurance exercisers. Half of the 63 participants had their opioid receptors blocked with a drug.
All the volunteers had their blood chemistries measured before and after they walked or ran on a treadmill. Plus, a standardized scale was used to measure their anxiety levels.
Regardless of which group they were in, the participants had spikes in their eCBs and significant drops in their anxiety levels. Proving, once again, that it wasn’t endorphins but likely the “natural cannabis” that was responsible for the post-workout mood lift.
MOOD boosting moves you’ll LOVE
More research is needed, of course. But the significant drop in anxiety alone is reason enough to “prescribe” exercise to help lift your mood.
After all, stress and anxiety don’t just make you FEEL bad. Over time they can harm your physical health too.
But don’t worry. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to be a workout warrior to experience the anxiety-reducing benefits of exercise.
Why not throw on your favorite pair of dancing shoes, crank up the tunes, and cut a rug instead?
Dancing for at least a half-hour three or more days a week has bunches of health benefits from improving heart health to boosting bone density. Plus, as long as you keep the music upbeat and yourself moving the whole time, you’ll be taking advantage of that anxiety-reducing, natural endocannabinoid high.
Walking, water aerobics (when the gym is open again), and swimming laps are great options. And if you need some more exercise inspiration check out these 8 fun and senior-friendly chair exercises.
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