The study explains how to enjoy sports

A lot of people just don’t like sports: jogging bore them, the gym puts them off, and exercise is simply not a thing for them. Research has now shown what could be the cause. In addition, researchers are revealing how even people who don’t do sports can develop a desire to exercise.

There is no doubt that physical activity is healthy and helps in old age. Countless studies have documented the health aspects of sport. For example, regular exercise in middle age (ages 50 and over) even lowers the risk of developing dementia.1 If that’s not an incentive! However, many people just don’t feel like being physically active. Finnish scientists have now investigated why this is so and, above all, how fun can be developed in sport.

First agony, then joy

There is hope for those who don’t like sports. At least that’s what the results of a Finnish study conducted at the University of Turku promise.2 Because if you struggle with the first uncomfortable weeks of training, you have a good chance at some point to develop fun in sports. The reason for this is the metabolism of the brain, which adjusts through exercise and processes mood-altering messenger substances and hormones better over time.

According to the researchers, people who exercise regularly have a greater increase in mood after a single exercise session compared to less active people. This creates a self-reinforcing cycle: if you feel good after a workout, you can’t wait for the next one and you are more motivated to exercise regularly. However, until now it has not been entirely clear how this cycle begins.

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Happy hormones are released when you exercise

So-called μ-opioid receptors (MORs) play a key role in the metabolic cycle. Because they react to the body’s own opiates and are therefore involved in the processing of feelings, motivation, stress, and reward. So if you like sports, you have a better developed MOR system and you process endorphins better after training. It makes you enjoy the movement and make you feel happy after training.

“It is possible that some people are born with a more responsive MOR system that allows them to like exercise and get more excited about physical activity,” explains Tiina Saanijoki, lead author of the study. But it can also be the other way around, adds the researcher. In this way, a better functioning MOR system could develop through regular training.

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To find out, Finnish scientists recruited 64 healthy, slim men. They had to conduct a series of stress tests and complete questionnaires. They measured the activity of μ-opioid receptors in the brain. 24 of the subjects also had to complete an hour of moderate exercise, while 12 others did high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The researchers also wanted to know if the intensity of exercise also plays a role in the MOR system.

The more exercise you do, the more satisfying it is for your brain

By analyzing the data, the researchers found that immediately after exercise (endurance or HIIT), better-trained patients had greater opioid release in areas of the brain that are especially important for reward processing and cognition. The bottom line is, the more you exercise, the more satisfying your brain is.

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Now for the good news for those who don’t like sports: scientists assume that regular training and increasing fitness stimulate the MOR system and make it more sensitive to endorphins. So if you play sports a lot, overcome your weaknesses, and chew through your training in the first few weeks, you’ll finally enjoy exercise. It’s best to try it yourself.

Sources

  • 1. Zotcheva E, Bergh S, Selbaek G et al. (2018). Middle-aged physical activity, mental stress, and the risk of dementia: the HUNT study. J. Alzheimer’s disease.
  • 2. T. Saanijoki, T. Kantonen, L. Pekkarinen et al. (2022). Aerobic fitness is related to the activation of mu opioid receptors in healthy people. Med Sci Sports Exerc.

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