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Endorphins: why physical activity can help you quit smoking for good!

Mélissa Globensky and Dino Masson, B.Sc., Kinesiologists
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​Cigarettes reduce the production of endorphins. To feel their benefits, exercise vigorously for 30 to 45 minutes. Start running or biking, for instance!

Endor… what?

Endorphins are hormones produced naturally in the body. Triggered by the brain, they are primarily released in situations of psychological or physical stress and more significantly during or after exertion. They also boost the immune system and promote positivism. Endorphins, particularly dopamine, are the body’s happiness hormone—a natural anti-stress medication.

When you stop smoking

If you smoke, the brain quickly becomes dependent on this external drug to stimulate endorphins. But the benefits of endorphin production are then countered by the multitude of chemical products contained in cigarettes, such as nicotine. Thus, an individual becomes not only addicted to the action of smoking but also chemically dependent on the sense of well-being it produces.

Then, when you try to use methods to stop smoking, the body and brain go into shock. The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include cold sweats, mood swings, feelings of hunger and sometimes even insomnia. All of these reactions are due in part to endorphins no longer reaching the brain. Production of these hormones has slowed because of the cigarettes.

What to do? Get moving!

The goal is to get frequent exercise. If you want to become an athlete, go ahead—your body will thank you for it. For the more realistic, all you need to do is engage in activities you enjoy and have fun! Start slowly, respect your limits and get used to it by incorporating it into your routine. Physical activity alone will stimulate the production of endorphins. The feeling of well-being, pleasure and fulfilment will hit you and leave you wanting more. Plus, being active will help you lose those extra pounds put on over the years and improve your sleep.

Some tips to help you make the right choices

  • The amount of endorphins released in the body during physical activity can be up to five times higher than when you’re at rest, 30 to 45 minutes after exertion. The amount of endorphins is related to the intensity and duration of the exercise.
  • Endurance sports produce the highest levels of endorphins. Running, biking, swimming, snowshoeing and indoor activities such as step aerobics, rowing and spinning are some examples. Team sports such as hockey, soccer, rugby, football, handball or basketball can also be added to this list.
  • However, running is not enough to feel the benefits of endorphins. An intensity level of at least 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate must be maintained for about 30 minutes.
  • Individuals who engage in sports regularly often regard themselves as addicted to exercise. Don’t worry! The goal isn’t to make you addicted to physical activity, although it is good for your health. Specialists tell us that endorphins are rapidly destroyed by the body, unlike nicotine, for example. It’s therefore a psychological dependency experienced by regularly active individuals. Indeed, the pleasure and sense of well-being generated are that strong!
  • These types of sub-maximal efforts are far less risky to your health than maximal. If you’re unsure of your physical condition, consult your family doctor or a kinesiologist to help you choose the activities that suit you best.

Of course, quitting smoking and starting to exercise is never easy. Don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist for help. Good luck!

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