Benefits of Walking - Hormones, Pain, Anxiety & Mood

Benefits of Walking - Hormones, Pain, Anxiety & Mood

Walking is a fantastic form of physical activity and brings with it many of the benefits that any other form of physical activity would. Exercise can be effective on improving mood disorders, including anxiety - even to the point of being equally effective as meditation and quiet rest [11]. But how exactly does this work? What happens in the body during and after exercise?

Physical Effects of Exercise

Exercise induces many physiological changes within the body, calming the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal activity [12]. It is known to have a significant effect on serotonin levels, reducing both depression and anxiety [13].

Studies in animals show a significant effect on brain serotonin levels after acute sessions of exercise, which alone could explain some of the positive effects on mood [14].

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known to impact a number of physical and psychological areas such as sleep, mood, appetite, gastrointestinal health, anxiety, movement, and sexual behavior. It is also strongly correlated with anxiety and is often used in clinical treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders [15].

Serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors (inhibiting serotonin recycling, leaving more available to the brain) are major pharmaceutical antidepressants commonly used to treat depression.

Another study of healthy men were tested in two groups, professional athletes and untrained, for their physiological responses to stressors. Cortisol levels, heart rate, mood, calmness and anxiety were all tested and analyzed before and after stress exposure many times. Cortisol levels and heart rate increased significantly less in the athletes, with calmness and anxiety being significantly higher and mood being generally better in this group. The researchers concluded that physical activity may provide protection against stress-related disorders [16].

Beta endorphins also play a role in the anxiety reducing effects of exercise. Studies indicate that blood levels of beta endorphins increase with exercise, potentially explaining some of the mood state changes, “exercise-induced euphoria”, and altered pain perception that come along with it [17].

Beta endorphins are natural painkillers of the body, but with a role in far more than just pain. They are known to affect stress, mood, anxiety, depression, sleep, pain and other areas of our lives. When these are released, we can often feel euphoric.

Psychological Effects of Exercise

Aside from the physical effects of exercise including the regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters, there are also strictly psychological aspects of exercise which can help to positively change our perception and our subjective experience.

Exercise is a “difficult” thing, subjectively. It can be painful, uncomfortable, and requires a large expenditure of energy. If you are not used to this, it will be difficult to start, and if you are not well motivated to continue, you could easily stop.

If one is self-motivated enough to work through this difficult thing, to achieve whatever goals they have laid out for themselves, there are several benefits received. First, you will have trained your body and mind to become used to doing difficult and strenuous things, often with no immediate reward. Second, you will have a sense of accomplishment for pushing yourself to do so. Both aspects are incredibly helpful for self-esteem, confidence, and overall mood – including anxiety.

More than this, we interestingly discovered in our research something known as “anxiety sensitivity". Essentially, this is one’s sensitivity to the physical sensations related to anxiety; anxiety of anxiety if you will. Increased heart rate, increased sweating, decreased blood flow in the extremities. Many of these symptoms share commonality with sensations induced during exercise [12].

Researchers propose that exposing someone who is fearful of anxious sensations to these symptoms through exercise will naturally increase their tolerance for them. They also found a correlation between anxiety sensitivity and levels of physical activity. They concluded that anxiety sensitivity causes avoidance behavior of the physical symptoms of exercise, which emulate anxiety [18][19].

Exercise Helps to Reduce or Prevent Pain – Endorphins & Pain Modulation

Chronic and acute are huge topics of research, with methods to alleviate or prevent pain ranging from electrical stimulation to pharmaceutical intervention and psychological methods. Many of our own technologies can target and improve pain as well. Chronic pain effects a staggering number of Americans, with more than 50 million adults experiencing daily or nearly daily chronic pain [20].

If you search on Google Scholar the word “pain”, results indicate almost 5 million results, with nearly 2,000 results from 2023 alone (as of this writing we are barely a single week into the year). Pain is a fascinating subject and is universal to humans, with all of us experiencing some form of pain nearly each day. Chronic pain, migraines, stubbed toes, burns, cuts, scrapes, bumps, normal headaches, and the list goes on. It is a critical component of our everyday lives and is necessary for our survival. No wonder there are so many research articles on the subject.

Exercise is widely understood to be able to produce positive effects on pain perception, immediate analgesic effects, and even euphoric like feelings. This is in large part tied to the release of endorphins.

Research has consistently shown that blood levels of beta endorphins increase significantly during and immediately following exercise [21]. Beta endorphins are known to have an analgesic effect by preventing the firing of sensory fibers [22].

One study showed a very clear relationship between pain responses and level of physical activity, with greater levels showing increased pain thresholds. Experiments were performed by testing for cold and heat temperature thresholds [23].

This release of endorphins is directly correlated to the immediate analgesic effects of exercise, shown through experiments where researchers block the release of endorphins, resulting in the analgesic effects disappearing [17]. This is a common method to test for the influence of endorphins for a given effect of a stimulus.

Exercise Induced Euphoria - Runner’s High

Many of you may have heard the term “runner’s high” before. This refers to the perceived state following running, but also any other form of sufficiently stimulating exercise. Researchers currently do not quite understand exactly what causes this feeling.

We have discussed the release of endorphins as well as the modulation of serotonin in discussions of anxiety and pain. Endorphins seem to not be the source of the euphoric experience, as researchers have shown that blocking endorphin release does not prevent euphoria or a decrease in anxiety [24].

Serotonin is another powerful neurotransmitter which can significantly influence mood and lead to a feeling of euphoria. SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders and generally cause warm and positive feelings in users. Serotonin is also a primary target and cause of euphoria in many illicit substances such as MDMA (ecstasy) and Methamphetamine.

You can skip the drugs and increase your own serotonin levels simply by exercising, as exercise is well known to increase serotonin levels [13]. Not only that, but with our folding treadmills, it has never been more convenient.

There is another type of “feel good” neurotransmitter known as endocannabinoids. These molecules are the body’s natural cannabinoids, very similar to the cannabinoids found in marijuana and are known to affect a variety of functions such as energy balance, appetite, blood pressure, pain, nausea, memory, learning and immune response [25].

Research shows that endocannabinoid levels significantly increase during acute exercise sessions, with researchers attributing this to the effect of exercise induced euphoria [26][27]. Researchers suggest that these endocannabinoids could refill bodily energy stores, produce analgesic effects, and elevate mood [26].

Exercise is a Powerful Tool for Your Health

While we all know instinctively that exercise is good for you, those of you who are curious now also know exactly why it is so good for you. Or maybe it will just reinforce your love of exercise which you already have. Either way, we hope this helps to motivate you further toward achieving your goals in life, and in maintaining a healthy body and mind.

We hope to make health and wellness more accessible and better understood with our products and research to all that we can reach. If you are interested in a new tool to help you in consistently exercising, want something to help alleviate some stress, or simply need a way to more efficiently manage your time while maintaining your health – see our foldable treadmills and explore how you can upgrade your health and change your life.

Convenient Cardio At Home

Walking or running has never been so easy with portable, folding treadmills. These are a great option for those who are busy or just want an easy way to increase their activity levels and consistency.

Your Experts in Home Wellness Technology

We all face limits with our bodies and our abilities. At High Tech Healing, we research and find home wellness tools that help you conquer your fitness and health.

Walking Research

Did you know that walking is just as effective as meditation and quiet rest at improving your mood? Visit our research page to learn more.

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