Humans Have Evolved To Enjoy Exercise

Humans Have Evolved To Enjoy Exercise

Something else that science can tell us about exercise: we’re wired to enjoy it. More specifically, humans and other animals with a propensity to exercise produce more endocannabinoids which trigger reward signals in the brain.

Picture by Tony Alter

A study in the Journal of Experimental Biology compared endocannabinoid production in humans and dogs (naturally active mammals) and ferrets (naturally inactive animals). Both humans and dogs had high levels of anandamide (an endocannabinoid) after exercise — a substance which helps produce the so-called “runners’ high” — while the ferrets didn’t. That suggests that natural selection has favoured the production of anandamide, which in turn makes exercise more rewarding.

Unfortunately, that sensation only occurs after intense exercise. As study author David Raichlen points out: “Inactive people may not be fit enough to hit the exercise intensity that leads to this sort of rewarding sensation.” Time to hit that treadmill, I guess.

Journal of Experimental Biology


    • One day, I will try exercise again, and then I will be able to make an informed comment. Maybe that one time I tried exercise and I felt sick and in pain all over my body all at once and couldn’t breathe and longed for death, I was low on endocannabinoids. Whatever the OPPOSITE of the ‘reward signal’ is, I am pretty sure that is what I was experiencing. Like when you put your hand in a rat trap, and you vivdly remember the sharp searing pain and the sensation of broken finger bones and the inability to touch anything without screaming for days, then someone says, ‘You should try putting your hand in a rat trap-‘ and then you say, ‘No, get lost, forever.’ And then I read the part about when the expert says, ‘Inactive people MAY not be fit enough -‘ and then I thought to myself, ‘McDonald’s?’

  • BDSM can produce a similar runners high. there are more ways to milk the brain for drugs than just excersice. atleast this kind of cannabinoids cant be made illegal 🙂

  • Back to the Future III quote stolen from imdb:

    Doc: And in the future, we don’t need horses. We have motorized carriages called automobiles.
    Saloon Old Timer #3: If everybody’s got one of these auto-whatsits, does anybody walk or run anymore?
    Doc: Of course we run. But for recreation. For fun.
    Saloon Old Timer #3: Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?

  • Ferrets naturally INactive? To anyone who has had ferrets in the family for decades (as we have) that sounds like writing one’s definitions to fit the hypothesis.

    Try telling the concept of ferrets being active to Pivot who I just stopped from climbing the minitramp sitting on its side behind my folding elliptical machine. To me they serve for other forms of exercise but to her they are combined tools to climb so that she can reach the top of the file cabinet and steal one of my exercise shoes to then hide in a far corner.

    Then there is Orville who daily moves about 2 dozen toys, some weighing more than he does from our living room to next to our bed on the other side of our home.

    Alternatively, think of Meltdown who carried a television remote weighing about a quarter of her weight to the top of our bedroom closet about 8 feet in the air. Of course, if she had not carried something so noticeable up there I would not have found the other treasures with which she defied gravity including my spare pair of eyeglasses. Later she would use gravity as her way to descend by digging her claws into the bodice of a dress , ripping her way down like a pirate movie hero with a knife. That was also her technique with curtains.

    Then there was Jumpstart who, from a sitting position, could uncoil to jump over a barrier which was three feet high. A friend who is professional volleyball player would love to manage such a plyometric feat.

    If you’d seen Warp appear on the opposite side of the room from where you had just seen her you would understand her name, ditto Wizbang.

    Of course, not all of the ferret individuals in our family were athletic. Glueball would rather hug and kiss, but you get the idea. Ferrets sleep often and deeply, but when they have the opportunity instead of being too much cage-bound they are curious and athletic.

    Granted, the hypothesis may still be perfectly valid, but from our decades of experience, the concept of ferrets as an example of “naturally inactive” is unjustified and inaccurate.

  • Whoever wrote this article or carried out the research must have used a very old or dead ferret to declare them inactive. Ferrets are known to be VERY active pets. In fact, they are often so active and curious too many ferret owners dump them in shelters because they are so misunderstood. If the majority of society even got off their butts half the time that my twelve ferrets do every day there would be far less grossly obese humans wandering the earth, at least here in North America! Get your act and ferrets straight so others out there don’t go out and buy a ferret thinking it will be a cute, cuddly, inactive pet – we have enough ferrets dumped in shelters already!

  • Really?? Ferrets INACTIVE…..That is dead wrong! My 4 ferrets wear me out before they are ready to take their nap! Ferrets are very active and curious creatures. Mine share a room with me and if they were caged they would get a minimal of 4 to 6 hours of run time daily. The misinformation in this article needs to be corrected. Ferrets are high energy critters and need plenty of romp time to keep them healthy and happy.

    • For all the ferret lovers — the scientific consensus (and the basis for the study) seems to be that compared to dogs and humans, ferrets are relatively less “naturally athletic” (which isn’t necessarily just a measure of activity levels as such). There certainly was a marked difference in their endocannabinoid levels, so there’s clearly a difference there.

  • What is written in the above article is “ferrets (naturally inactive animals). The problem with that wording is that some people will read this article and will get a ferret and think the ferret can be kept caged all the time. This is obviously wrong and very bad for the ferret. Hence, the complaints from us ferret people.

  • I’m a firefighter and it’s my job to maintain a decent level of fitness, but I definitely do not like working out. I walk past the gym during the day and dread getting in there for a pain session. I usually procrastinate for hours before finally getting into it. We generally exercise utilising HIIT (high intensity interval training) which focuses on the type of fitness that is beneficial to firefighting. In other words, I spend 20 minutes to half an hour wishing that I had never been born.

    But I have to say, I totally agree with this article. After I get out of the gym, I feel like a million bucks. I feel like someone just gave me a massive dose of “being alive”, I’m in a great mood and I wonder why I didn’t want to work out in the first place.

  • I am actually one of those weird folks who loves to exercise. I even start feeling a little high while I still have sweat running down my face. This is hilarious for me because I started out HATING exercise. All I could think of was miles on the treadmill and the gym classes of my youth. I made a deal with myself regarding 10 minutes a day five days a week…now I have trouble taking rest days because I WANT to feel that awesome feeling.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!