How exercise boosts mood, reduces stress and can work as well as antidepressants

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Want to feel positive, more in control and less stressed? Then you need get your 'endorphins' going, as Jess Ennis-Hill discusses…

We all need a bit of a boost during the winter months, and without doubt exercise is the one thing that always lifts my mood.

As a retired athlete, exercise has always been a part of my routine, but I wanted to understand more about why moving makes us feel good, plus if there's any science behind that post-workout buzz...

So, Jess, what happens when you exercise?

When you exercise your body increases levels of a hormone called endorphins (prounounced: en-dor-fins), which produce a feeling of euphoria. Endorphins have a number of effects on your brain, reducing the perception of pain and triggering that post-workout elation, also known as the runner’s high. 

Ok, count us in. Where do I get some?

Studies suggest that the big endorphin rush happens after an hour of exercise , and running usually gets the most credit for giving you a ‘high’. But, while long, hard workouts will get your endorphins flowing, new evidence suggests that you can still raise your endorphin levels with as little as 10 minutes exercise per week .

There’s a very strong link between activeness and happiness. So, even if you’ve had a really busy few days and the last thing you feel like doing is working out, one of my quick circuits, a run or walk is guaranteed to make you feel better.

There are other ways to boost endorphins in the body too, with researchers suggesting that eating dark chocolate or spicy food will have a similar (but less dramatic) effect.

In fact, while some people exercise to get fit, for just as many people it’s simply because it makes them happy.

Eating spicy food can have a similar effect on endorphin levels, but nothing works as efficiently as exercise

Is there any serious science behind it?

Digging a bit deeper, it’s been found that exercise can be as effective as medication and counselling in overcoming and even preventing anxiety and depression. "For some people it works as well as antidepressants," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain – the region that helps regulate mood – is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression." 

Why is it called a 'runners high'?

The term ‘runners high’ came about because long-distance running was fashionable in the 70s when scientists first discovered endorphins and their effect on the brain. If it was discovered today, it could just as easily be known as Zumba Rush or the Jennis buzz. Possibly…

Moving in line with your hormones

The good news is that you don't have to go hard everyday to get your endorphins going. In fact, by tuning into your body and your menstrual cycle you can still get all the positives from exercise without pushing yourself on the days you don't feel up to it.

There are a lot of hormonal changes taking place across the different phases of your menstrual cycle, which affect your motivation to train; the way your muscles adapt; how your body fuels and so much more. By understanding what’s happening hormonally, you can do what’s best for your body at the right time in your cycle, helping you to feel more energised, build up to 15% more lean muscle, respond better to fitness and reduce cycle symptoms.

You'll come away from every session feeling more positive, so whether you’re stressed, short on time, need a boost, want to beat the bloat or you’re ready to smash it, we’ve got you covered with endorphin-boosting sessions to suit.

Check out the  Jennis CycleMapping app for daily workouts and advice that’s synced to your menstrual cycle

Read what  Refinery 29  had to say about the programme

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