Studies suggest that it only takes 10 minutes for exercise to make us feel better.(1) As we begin to exercise our blood pressure rises and our brains get the signal that we are in a struggle. We go into “fight or flight”. To protect us from that stress, our brain begins to produce BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor). It has the ability to reset our brain to the default that it was functioning at before the stress. That’s why we feel so much better afterward.(2) The problems that plagued our thoughts as we tied on those workout shoes seem to melt almost entirely away. At the very least, your perception of those stressors will be changed. BDNF is not the same as endorphins. Those are another story. Endorphins are also released and they decrease pain and can cause us to experience a type of euphoria. I have felt this “Runner’s High” a few times from lifting and in the past from swimming or running. There’s really nothing quite like it. It’s truly a euphoric state. This doesn’t come easily however. The BDNF will be released easier than the endorphins and will clear your mind and give you a fresh start on even your most difficult days. If you work out really hard and get the endorphin rush, that’s a bonus! When you first begin to exercise the endorphins will come easier. As you get conditioned, you will have to work harder for that bliss. Always get your doctor’s permission before beginning or intensifying any exercise program.
We always want to know, “How long will it take?” Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. In one day your mood will be better. In one week, you’ll have more energy. In about a month, you will notice an increase in muscle mass and increased overall fitness and you will begin to look better. After roughly six months you will begin to see some muscle growth and your heart size will increase and become stronger and more efficient. As your muscle mass increases your body will be reshaped and your confidence will soar. When you have been working out for a year you will have some improvement in bone density providing you have been doing weight bearing exercise such as running, jumping rope or weight training. There is even some evidence that pushing off the wall of the pool while swimming laps will increase bone density in the hips. You will also have learned how to deal with mental stress better and feel much more confident. All of your mental functions will perform much better at the end of a year. Your confidence will be well founded in a fit, healthy body and mind. (3)
When we exercise we “damage” some muscle cells and our body repairs them by fusing muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands called myofibrils. Satellite cells are activated by exercise and act like stem cells for our muscles. They go to the site of the “damage” and add more cell nuclei to the muscle cells and contribute to the growth of the myofibrils. This is why we become more muscular when we work out. The interesting thing about muscle growth however, is that the growth does not occur during exercise. It occurs during rest afterwards. Although I am a power lifter/builder, I force myself to take 2-3 days off of the iron every week. On those days I can do less strenuous things like hiking or simply walking but I have to let my muscles rest to see growth and increase in strength. Lifting has changed my appearance. Today I saw a relative who hadn’t seen me in about a year and she was stunned by my transformation. She said that I have never looked as good as I do now at 62.
“Osteogenic dynamic loads delivered to the skeleton during exercise prevent aging-associated bone fragility.” (6) Wow. This is a direct quote from the U.S National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Increases in bone mass strengthen the skeleton and help reduce falls associated with aging. Falling is the second leading cause of accidental death worldwide. (7) If you want to live longer, take care of your bones. Bone is formed after stress is placed upon it. Just like in muscle growth, after exercise, bone cells migrate to the stressed area and begin to repair the damage. The bone cells make proteins and deposit them between bone cells to increase bone strength in that area. Over time, these proteins mineralize and give bone it’s characteristic rigidity. (8)
Although the physical benefits of exercise are profound, in today’s world anxiety and depression are rampant. Suicide rates increased 33% between 1999 and 2017. (9) Since this article is about how to feel better fast, I must confess that as much of a health freak as I am, I consider the mental benefits of exercise to be at least equally important to the physical benefits. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or any other psychological disturbance I strongly encourage you to incorporate exercise into your life with your doctor’s approval. Although exercise is wonderful for all of the reasons that I mentioned here, nothing can replace a good doctor. See your physician and with his/her guidance begin an exercise program. Your life will never be the same.