Runner's High? Yeah, Right
If you're like me, you hate those exercise fanatics who are always bragging about how much better they feel after a good work-out. Anxious or depressed? Go to the gym, they say. You'll feel better. Need a rush? Jog until you're ready to drop and get that "runner's high."
All I ever feel after dragging myself to the gym is sweaty and hot and ready for a good nap, or maybe a beer. Or both. And not necessarily in that order.
Now, there's some new research that could explain all that.
Marleen De Moor of the VU University in Amsterdam realized that none of the studies linking exercise to lower levels of anxiety and depression had really proven a cause-and-effect relationship. All they showed was an association-- that people who tended to be more physically active also tended to report less anxiety and depression.
So, in the first study of its kind, De Moor and her colleagues analyzed data collected about nearly 6,000 twins ages 18 to 50, as well as some of their siblings and parents, between 1991 and 2002.
To their surprise, the researchers found that among the identical twins, exercise had no independent effect on anxiety or depression. A twin who exercised a lot was just as likely to have those problems as his or her couch potato twin. If one twin started hitting the gym, or stopping working out, their anxiety and depression was unchanged. When the researchers compared identical twins to non-identical twins, any relationship between exercise and mood was completely explained by genes.
All this suggests that the effects of exercise on mood is built into each of us: The twins who benefited from exercise appear to have genes that predispose them to the psychological benefits of physical activity. No one knows what those genes are. But De Moor, who reported her findings this week in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, speculates that they might have something to do with regulating the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine.
Now, De Moor stresses that this doesn't mean that some people don't get a lot of pleasure from working out. But it may mean that exercise doesn't do the trick for everybody. It may just help those who are genetically programmed that way, and those are the ones who are motivated to do it.
For the rest of us, a work-out just feels like, well, work. It doesn't mean we shouldn't do it -- it helps keep the weight off, our bones strong and our hearts healthy, among other things. But just don't expect us to be all that happy about it.
How about you? Does working out boost your mood? Or is like flossing your teeth?
August 7, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness
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