It’s endorphin time: the mental benefits of exercise

It’s 4 a.m. The sky is still dark and you feel sluggish getting out of bed. After putting on some workout clothes and brushing your teeth, you head out the door to the gym.

On the way to the gym, you feel groggy and keep asking yourself why you bothered to get up so early when you could be sleeping instead.

However, after exercising for about an hour at the gym, you head back home feeling fantastic, energetic and can’t wait to start the rest of your day.

The exhilarated feeling many people experience after exercising can be scientifically explained. Exercising has been shown to release certain chemicals in the brain, which makes you feel better about yourself.

A study done by Duke University researchers James Blumenthal and Michael Babyak in 1999  found that people who exercised for 40 minutes with a moderate amount of energy three to five days a week experienced the greatest amount of mood-boosting feelings, according to LiveStrong.com.

Several chemicals including endorphins and serotonin are released in the brain while a person is performing a certain exercise.

According to LiveStrong.com, endorphins are dispensed after an extended, vigorous workout and enables people to exercise longer. Serotonin, a natural mood booster, can decrease the feeling of depression.

Maintaining a healthier lifestyle, along with exercising, can increase the production of these chemicals and brain cells.

People lose brain cells every day, depending on the way they live. People who drink too much, smoke, eat poorly and are depressed or stressed tend to have less brain cells than people who live a different lifestyle, Jessie Jones, Ph.D., Cal State Fullerton’s health science chair and professor, said.

“Physical activity, aerobics, in particular, helps us to develop these neurotrophic factors, which is kind of like an insulin,” Jones said. “You need that in order to actually develop those new brain cells.”

Several types of exercises, such as sports and fitness classes, utilizes a person’s ability to multitask and impacts the brain more. These activities get people’s heart rate up and requires them to think, which is needed to get that good feeling.

Alison Hy, 20, a computer science major, has taken up pole dancing classes as a way to get back into shape. She had a hard time making it to the gym so she tried pole dancing classes as an alternative way to exercise.

“For me, pole dancing, or dancing in general, is a really good stress reliever from day-to-day classes and responsibilities,” Hy said.

Although there aren’t as many studies out there about how reducing stress by exercising correlates with brain function, diminishing stress at least decreases the negative impact on the brain, according to Jones.

She suggests students take yoga and tai chi classes to help relieve stress.

If students find that they don’t have time to exercise, there are several ways to get a workout while on campus.

Students can park further away from classes, walk around campus more and take the stairs instead of using the elevator, Jones said.

“You’re probably going to be able to think better once you get to class because you’re already getting more blood flow to the brain,” Jones said.

Cambria Johnson, 20, a business major and the school’s cheer captain, uses the Student Recreation Center and works out at least four days a week.

Johnson said she finds that after working out in the morning she feels more rejuvenated and is a lot happier.

“(I feel) great. That’s what keeps me going, the feeling afterward,” Johnson said. “If I don’t work out I feel a little sluggish.”

Despite many people feeling exhilarated right after exercising, the long-term positive effects working out has on the brain takes time.

“Changes in the brain does not occur immediately and it’s something a person needs to do for awhile”, Jones said. “It generally takes about six months to see any differences in the brain.”

Exercising can be tedious and time consuming, but having a healthy mind and body is worth taking a few hours out of the week to workout, even in the dark early hours of the morning.

“(Exercising is) just good for your mental health and physical health,” Hy said.

About Kristen Cervantes

Krissy is finally graduating this semester from Cal State Fullerton. She is majoring in communications/print journalism and is excited to be an editor for the first time after spending two semesters on the Daily Titan staff. When she's not at home chasing her 20-month-old daughter around, she enjoys shopping and going to Disneyland with her husband and family. After graduation, she hopes to land a job with a magazine or newspaper and eventually have a successful career as an editor and columnist.