also push pain into the background.
These studies leave at least one enormous question unanswered: How does exercise mask pain? Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology is intriguing.
Researchers there recently found that physically fit male college students produced natural painkillers within their bodies after 45 minutes of jogging on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike. And not just any painkillers, either. The exercise apparently stimulated a system that released large amounts of endocannabinoids, compounds that are chemically similar to the active ingredient in marijuana.
According to American Family Physician, regular exercise can “retrain” the nervous system by creating new connections between the brain and the body. In some cases, these new, healthy pathways might take the place of old connections that were stuck on the pain alarm.
Gentle exercise is also valuable
You don’t have to exercise vigorously to find pain relief, though, according to yoga proponents. In one report, researchers leading a Group Health Cooperative and University of Washington study took a pool of 101 back pain sufferers and randomly prescribed one of three 26-week treatment plans: a gentle yoga routine (in the viniyoga style); a self-care handbook; and an exercise regimen designed by a physical therapist.
The study concluded that yoga was the most effective of the three methods over a six-month period. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the report noted that patients in the yoga group reported the most mobility and the least pain.
Also encouraging was this group’s decline in reliance on pain medications: Only 21 percent were taking any drugs at the end of the study, compared with more than twice that in the other two groups.
Proceed with caution
As with every other pain reliever, exercise should be done with caution. If you try to do too much too soon, you’ll probably end up feeling more pain, not less. If you’re pregnant or have a health condition, talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise you can do. Pain relief — like fitness — is a goal that’s best approached step by step.