Intense physical activity for more endorphins to cope with stress? This is the hypothesis suggested by a research published in Neuropsychopharmacology and carried out by the University of Turku (Finland): with Interval training, a high-intensity training programme, the production of endorphins – the so-called “well-being hormones” – may be different from the one associated with an hour of aerobic physical activity. We discuss this with Professor Daniela Lucini, Head of the Humanitas Section of Medicine for Exercise.
Researchers involved 22 men, measuring their endorphin level with positron-emitting tomography diagnostic technique at rest, after one hour of moderate aerobic activity and after an hour of Interval training.
After this last workout, with a much higher intensity, an increased release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters was detected in the brain areas that control pain. In the case of moderate aerobic activity, however, the release of endorphins was more contained but the level of pleasant sensations and euphoria related to the production of wellbeing hormone was higher.
Endorphins and motivation
The release of endorphins is only one of the effects that physical activity has on the body: “Physical movement – explains Professor Lucini – affects the central nervous system and pleasure control centers. The study in question deepens this effect by considering the intensity factor of physical activity, the Interval training in this case. This is a type of physical exercise that is generally more intense than other disciplines and that alternates between training phases at different intensities “.
The experience of many patients who have undergone Interval training and reported a higher level of wellbeing and satisfaction may explain the association suggested by the study with the greatest release of endorphins,” the specialist continues.
According to the authors of the study, the production of endorphins could be a lever to support motivation in physical activity: at moderate intensity, the wellbeing that is tested could favor constancy; at higher intensities, the release of endorphins would seem to be associated with greater stress and may be necessary to cope with this form of heavier exercise. Endorphins, that is, would counteract this sensation of stress that could discourage the subject.
Research emphasizes the importance of intensity once again
Intensity is a determining factor in the choice of physical activity and it is a parameter to be calibrated together with a specialist – says Professor Lucini. This is because we need to be trained to cope with a greater physical effort and also because greater intensity is associated with variations in parameters, starting with blood pressure for example, which can involve risks for patients in less than optimal health conditions “.
Therefore – concludes the expert – a higher intensity is fine but only if the patient has been evaluated by a doctor and provided that this higher intensity can be really useful for his psycho-physical well-being “.