Hormones and psyche, this is what happens to those who regularly exercise

The Eurobarometer data speak clearly. In 2022 only one Italian in three34% to be precise, carry out aphysical activity significant at least once a week. We are four points below the EU average, which is around 38%.
But be careful: this discrepancy is especially noticeable considering the occasional activity, with a delay of 7 points on the European average. So there are still many people who, by choice, laziness or real inability to sustain significant physical efforts, tend to sedentary lifestyle. And perhaps they give up the “pleasure” that physical activity can give, which must in any case be commensurate with the body's potential. Therefore it is always necessary to evaluate on a case by case basis. With one basic distinction.
L'physical activity is identified with any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in a energy consumption. L'physical exercise, instead, it is a physical activity characterized by structured, repetitive and purposeful muscle contractions improvement or maintenance of physical fitness. And then? Then, as if it were a drug, physical activity must be modulated. So much so that we talk about “exercise therapy”. We need to think about the type, the right dose for intensity, frequency and volume. And side effects and contraindications should not be underestimated. Not only for the body, but also for the psyche and for the hormones that regulate the functioning of our organism.

How dopamine and cognitive well-being change

Basic research that appeared in the Journal of Psysiology explored the improvement of cognitive performance which often detects those who do regular physical activity. The key to this condition would be to be found in dopamine, the hormone linked to pleasure, satisfaction and motivation, also tends to increase in subjects who train. But it's not enough. The study leads us to think that it is precisely with regular physical activity that reaction times could be improved, leading to the hypothesis of a role of “tailor-made” movement also for patients with conditions affecting the nervous system, such as addictions or Parkinson's disease.

The research measured the release of dopamine in the brain with PET, which tracks the metabolic and biochemical activity of the body's cells. And it turned out that when a participant pedaled while lying down on the machine, their brain increased the amount of dopamine release and that this process was linked to an improvement in reaction time. This mechanism may underlie the improvement of cognitive performance in those who do aerobic activity, or in any case contribute to improving the situation. But above all it shows that dopamine can be an important neuromodulator for improve reaction times. In any case, the choice to move appears to be fundamental: when we tell the body to move during training, this promotes the release of dopamine in the brain. Although other factors also come into play, such as excitement, motivation and the greater supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, this mechanism could be of great interest.

The hormones at the basis of our well-being

Widespread pathologies, such as obesity, diabetes, thyroid disease, infertility, osteoporosis, are all connected to hormonal alterationswhich have many faces and which almost all of us are destined to know sooner or later.
“It is estimated that the probability that each of us, in our lifetime, will have to deal with a hormonal problem is around 75% – reports Gianluca Aimaretti, president of SIE (Italian Society of Endocrinology) and Director of the Department of Medicine Translational (DiMET) of the University of Eastern Piedmont, which, however, highlights the risky gaps in knowledge. The centrality of the hormonal system means that the endocrinologist must be a competent specialist in multiple therapeutic areas even very distant from each other, yet he pays the price of a lack of awareness of the role of hormones in maintaining health and in many diseases, even by the medical profession. Despite the extraordinary impact on female and male health, often ignored and underestimated – he underlines -, few know the crucial role of hormones which remains mysterious for the majority of Italians, who do not know how to deal with any imbalances and who to turn to. In fact, if the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke are peculiar and easily recognisable, hormones act instead in a less clear and evident way”.

Sport and hormones: the hormonal workout

Sport has a great impact on hormonal modulation: doing constant physical activity, but at a moderate and not prolonged intensity, from 90 to 150 minutes a week, it can help the body produce hormones better.
“In fact, we are now also talking about hormonal workouts, that is, setting up training in such a way as to balance the production of hormones and ensure that its effectiveness is maximum with aerobic exercises such as running, intense walking and gentle gymnastics – reports Aimaretti . As soon as we move, our body releases hormones that cause different effects. An example is that of'irisinathe so-called sports hormone, 'fat burner', which through constant and balanced physical activity increases by 12% and combats 'bad' fat cells. Regular low intensity exercise increases the secretion of carbon dioxide by up to 500% compared to those who are sedentary. endorphins And serotoninknown as happiness hormonesresponsible for well-being and good mood, and instead reduces the production of cortisolLstress hormone, thus helping to balance hormonal production and ensure that its effectiveness is maximum. Physical activity also contributes to lower insulin resistance and to improve the use of sugar by the muscles and brain”.

Beware of addiction

As usual, even for physical activity, you shouldn't exaggerate. And you need to avoid finding yourself completely on the ground after running or even feeling a sort of withdrawal if you don't wear shoes and a t-shirt to run, like Forrest Gump. In short: if you can't help but run every day, perhaps you are developing some sort of addiction that can be harmfulespecially for the psyche.

The warning – and it is not the first time this has happened considering the spread of the passion for running – is a research by experts from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology. The study, coordinated by Frode Stenseng, clearly speaks of pathological addiction. The survey examined almost 230 people of both sexes, who were given targeted questionnaires to evaluate the psychological components and above all the possible dependence on exercise and its impact on psychological well-being. Result: from many “runners” it clearly emerged that in the face of the psychological drive to exercise, in some cases real tendencies towards effort dependence occur, with a significant impact on psychological and physical conditions. The feeling is that if physical effort is not addressed with the right attention, making it an indispensable corollary of every day and not tolerating its possible lack with symptoms of real malaise, for many people the psychological condition it can get worse. And with it, obviously, also the relationship with the world.

There is a “high” for those who run

Research findings can enlighten individuals in understanding their own motivation and be used for therapeutic reasons for individuals who struggle with maladaptive engagement in their activity. What is certain is that more and more there is a need to escape, to escapeand, even overcoming self-awareness. And running can become a useful tool for getting away, and not just in a figurative sense, from reality. The risk is that those who become too passionate, to the point of no longer being able to do without the daily and tiring relationship with the asphalt or the park paths, then find themselves truly unable to do without these sensations, developing a real and own pathological dependence. In practice, the phenomenon that some experts have defined occurs “high” of those who run, comparing this need to get tired by running with what happens after taking narcotic substances. This is obviously an impractical parallel, given the diametrically opposite effects on the body of an activity that can help well-being compared to another that instead damages it. But the theme should not be underestimated and expresses the power of a possible addiction which is often not reflected upon.

The picture presents curious and non-specific symptoms, which are difficult to relate to the absence of morning or evening walks. Suffice it to think in this sense of the condition that the psychiatrist William Glasser masterfully depicted in 1974, recalling how addiction to running requires months and months of daily commitment to develop but then, once present, it manifests itself suddenly as soon as stop. The most classic symptoms of this condition would be a stomach pain which is associated with digestive difficulties and above all insomnia, understood as difficulty in falling into the arms of Morpheus or in maintaining night rest for the necessary time.

Not just sport, how to prevent hormonal imbalances

Hormones are the “directors” of our health and regulate everything that happens in our body. These chemical substances, produced by endocrine glandsact as messengers which, traveling in the bloodstream, carry information to regulate and coordinate the functions of the various organs: sleep, hunger, body temperature, metabolism, sexual desire, mood, growth and development.
From estrogen to testosterone, from insulin to growth hormone, they circulate in our body more than 50 hormones whose variations can lead the way many pathologies. In fact, 30% of chronic diseases and 1 in 4 cancers depend on hormonal imbalances. Hormone levels fluctuate not only based on age, but also in relation to the type of diet and bad lifestyles.

“Knowing hormones and their importance, but above all implementing strategies that can help prevent the many diseases in which there is an altered hormonal component, means positively impact health of citizens – reports Diego Ferone, president-elect of SIE and Director of the Endocrinology Clinic at the IRCCS Policlinico San Martino, University of Genoa. Reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors contained in plastic packaging, cosmetics and toys as much as possible. Make sure that everyone can have an adequate income vitamin D, iodine and calcium it means ensuring that diseases such as osteoporosis, thyroid diseases and some metabolic disorders are prevented, which together affect 3 out of 10 people in Italy alone. Regular practice of physical exercise is equally fundamental in order to reduce the impact of diseases with a strong hormonal component such as lobesity, tumors, diabetes”.