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


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

As a retired athlete, I’m passionate about staying fit and healthy, but over the past year I’ve been thinking more and more about fitness for the mental health benefits it brings.

With the pandemic disrupting all our lives, my Jennis circuit sessions have been massively valuable on a personal level, giving me precious ‘me time', helping me feel more in control and leaving me with a much more positive outlook.

Ever since I did my psychology degree, I've been fascinated by why this is and how much you need to push yourself to feel 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." 

I’m too busy. So I’ll miss out, right?

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…


We know how difficult it is to keep your fitness mojo going as we head closer to the end of the year, which is why we’ve created a brand-new section in the Jennis app called #HowJennisFeels. This is designed to help you match how you’re feeling to the right sessions for you - and 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 an 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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