Pumping Iron – The Science of Sport & Exercise

Dan Wiggins

by Dan Wiggins

14th July 2015

James A. Blumenthal and Michael A. Babyak, researchers from Duke University published an article in the “Archives of Internal Medicine” in 1999 demonstrating their findings that regular exercise boosts peoples self esteem and decreases stress.

Their research discovered that people who exercise at a moderate intensity for just 40 minutes per day, three to five days per week, showed a huge increase in their mental happiness and was proven to have great mood-boosting benefits. It concluded that not only does regular exercise make you physically healthier, but it can also have great improvements on your mental well-being.

Chemicals in Exercise

A lot of people have heard of the two main chemicals released into the brain during exercise, Endorphins and Serotonin, but that doesn’t mean we understand how they’re release and the effects it has on your brain and body.

Woman running at sunset

Woman jogging at Sunrise. Photograph source – http://www.wallpaperseries.com/


Let’s start with endorphins, otherwise known as “endogenous morphine”, are small protein-like molecules used by neurons to communicate with each other and they are released through the pituitary gland during tough exercise. They are thought to be released as an opposition to the pain you feel when exercising strenuously, interacting with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain. Thus, allowing you to exercise for longer.


Serotonin is another chemical that is released into the brain during exercise. Like endorphins, they are neurotransmitters that send signals across a synapse from one neuron to another. When serotonin levels are increased in the brain, symptoms of depression are decreased, just like the findings in Blumenthal’s and Babyak’s researched publications showed. It is believed that individuals suffering from depression obtain a lack of brain cell production of serotonin.

Depression may occur when there is a suppression of new brain cells and that stress is the most important precipitator of depression. Common antidepressant medications known as SSRIs, which are designed to boost serotonin levels, help kick off the production of new brain cells, which in turn allows the depression to lift.

– Barry Jacobs, PhD. Princeton Neuroscientist

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