Have you ever wondered how some people couldn’t wait to smash out a mammoth gym session when you can barely find the motivation to tie your trainers’ laces?
How come, while you turn to food, booze, and cigarettes to relieve stress, your sporty friends opt for a five-mile run instead?
Were these sports enthusiasts born that way, or was that enthusiasm cultivated?
Becoming envious of these super-excited gym bunnies is easy. After all, if you could become as enthusiastic as them about running and lifting weights, maybe you’d have the body you always wanted.
Thankfully, the drive that keeps people going back to the gym is biological. It's more than possible to teach your body to love exercise.
Endorphins and exercise
When your body engages in cardio or resistance training, endorphins are released into the pituitary gland, as well as other parts of the brain and the nervous system. They lock onto the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin or painkillers like morphine and methadone.
Endorphins have a similar effect on the body as these opiate drugs; they help the body to numb pain and can even be responsible for creating feelings of euphoria. They're not as addictive as opiate drugs, but the pleasure felt is comparable to the emotions experienced while eating chocolate or having sex.
It’s these chemicals that allow fighters and rugby players to survive the brutal physicality of a professional match while ignoring the pain and still performing at their peak.
How to release endorphins through exercise
The level of endorphins released during exercise will differ from person to person. One individual may have to work significantly harder than another to achieve the ‘runner’s high’ that keeps cardio-enthusiasts coming back to the treadmill.
However, many studies have concluded that light-to-moderate cardio or resistance training doesn't produce endorphins. If you want to start enjoying exercise, you’ll have to push your body to its physical limit.
There's nothing new about this advice. It's well known you have to reach your physical peak to extend it. However, when you first start your exercise regime, it’s likely you’ll tire quickly. You’ll struggle to get used to heavy breathing, and your muscles may ache for days afterward.
Still, if you can get used to pushing yourself through this pain, you'll be more likely to notice endorphins making exercise a more bearable (or even enjoyable) experience.
Exercise and pride
As your exercise programme continues through its third, fourth and fifth weeks, you should start to notice improvements in your fitness. If the regime is paired with a healthy diet, you may spot the first signs of weight loss or larger muscles too.
Pushing through the pain barrier to achieve this remarkable result should give you a real sense of pride and accomplishment. The fact it was so difficult when you started should make you feel even better.
These feelings of pride are enough to keep people coming back to the gym time and again. Many athletes who spend a majority of their leisure time exercising are driven by a personal target they’ve set or an event they’re training for.
Once you’ve achieved your initial target, it’s likely you’ll feel so great you’ll want to set another. That’s why so many marathon runners are desperate to compete again after their first success.
Exercise and health
Once a notable improvement in your fitness has been achieved, it’s likely you’ll start to look and feel better in your day-to-day life.
Regular exercise helps you achieve a better immune system, by flushing bacteria out of your lungs and airways while causing white blood cells to flow more rapidly.
You’ll sleep better. Exercise has been shown to improve the sleep patterns of people with insomnia, as well as lower their anxiety levels.
You’ll have more energy - and be less inspired to fall victim to mind-numbing vices like TV, junk food or alcohol. You’ll realize you can release the same feel-good chemicals by exercising, without the long-term damage to your health.
Once you experience the advantages of an athletic lifestyle, it becomes easier to stick to it. The inactive, unenergetic state you used to find yourself in becomes more noticeable, and it’s unlikely you’ll want to experience it again.
Instead, you’ll prefer to identify as an athlete and achieve the natural highs you get from exercising.