Your whole life, you were told that drugs were bad for you. The drugs you ingest might be bad, but the drugs your brain makes are lots of fun! Exercise has been known to increase things like dopamine and serotonin, which are feel-good chemicals.
These neurotransmitters contribute to the feeling of euphoria that some people describe as “runner’s high.” Sure, you might think running is boring, but if you run long enough you can experience that same euphoria.
The good news is that these highs aren’t just reserved for runners. While serotonin and dopamine are important, there’s another, perhaps more important drug called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF.
BDNF is produced in the brain (specifically the hippocampus) when you exercise. It’s been shown to have neuroplastic and neuroprotective effects. That means it helps the brain grow and change while protecting it from degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
BDNF has been credited with curbing anxiety and depression in people who exercise. It also improves brain function. While initial research showed that endurance training increased BDNF, there’s now evidence that HIIT training does as well.
A study published in February 2021 shows that as lactic acid increases, it can stimulate your brain to release BDNF. Lactic acid is produced when you sprint, circuit train, or do high-rep weightlifting.
That means you don’t need to be a runner to feel something like a runner’s high. You can also reap the mental and neurological benefits of exercise with many different types of workouts!