Balanced, timely exercise can be beneficial to your mental health, improve your sense of well being, and in some cases, alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

For more information on training check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 252.

Why Does Exercise Make You Feel Good?

Your body is equipped with systems that encourage and reward physical activity. The positive feelings you get after a workout is one of these rewards. Your body does this by secreting different compounds during and after exercise. Some of these compounds alleviate pain and assist bodily systems, while others directly impact brain chemistry.

The Compounds Released During Exercise

When you exercise, the endocrine system releases endorphins. These endorphins activate opioid sensors in the body. The opioid sensors, in return, alleviate symptoms of pain as well as increase a sense of well being and euphoria in the body.

Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that these endorphins don’t actually reach your brain. Instead they impact and deliver relief to other systems in your body. By means of helping the other systems in your body, these endorphins improve your body’s sense of well being as a whole. This in turn can positively impact your mood and make you feel good.

Endorphins might not make it to your brain, but other substances that are made during exercise do. One of these compounds is anandamide. Anandamide molecule is a naturally occurring molecule that is shown to alleviate symptoms of depression and boost mood. Research shows that there is a high level of anandamides present in the body after exercise.

Contracting Muscles

The physical act of contracting muscles has its own unique benefits too. When your muscles contract, they secrete compounds called myokines. These compounds have cognitive and mood-boosting effects. In addition to these effects, studies suggest that these compounds can protect our brains from stress-induced depression. Your contracting muscles are essentially secreting substances that affect different systems in the body, including the brain, much like your endocrine system does.

The Benefits

Exercising often can help improve long term emotional well being. But athletes may not have to wait too long before they notice the positive psychological effects induced by exercise. In some cases, exercise can relieve an athlete’s stress and boost their mood just minutes into a workout. Other times an athlete might notice a difference in mood well into a workout or soon after it ends.

This can be helpful to think about when you aren’t feeling great, or you aren’t motivated to train. Your body wants to help you make it through your workout and will reward you after for your hard work. You just have to get past the toughest part, which is getting started.

Changes in mood generally follow action. So whenever you’re not feeling super motivated to exercise, try and get on the bike and make it past the first set of intervals. Typically after the first set of intervals, you’ll be cashing in on some of these benefits and will want to continue.

Balancing Rest and Exercise

Exercise may help a lot of things, but it’s not always the solution. When your body is excessively fatigued from training, dedicated rest might be more beneficial than exercise. If you make it on the bike and you still aren’t feeling well after that first set of intervals, it’s okay to stop your workout and take a rest day. Head back home or hop off the trainer and take the remaining time you had in that workout to assist your body’s recovery. Extra recovery and self-care go a long way too.

When daily stress is overwhelming, adding training stress to your day might not be the solution, either. If you ever have days like these, feel free to swap a hard workout for a minus version. Or take the day off to rest and focus on recovery. As good as exercise makes you feel, never underestimate how beneficial rest can make you feel too. Resting one day might make it so you can work out the next and start the cycle again. It’s all about creating a healthy balance between the two.

For more cycling training knowledge, listen to the Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.

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Meghan Kelley

Meghan Kelley is a writer, XC MTB racer, and an all-around fan of trails, rocks, dirt, and the desert. She's passionate about helping cyclists get faster and finding the best mid-ride snacks.