This Hormone Might be the Key to Getting You to Work Out


If you have a friend or family member who considers themselves a “runner,” then you’ve probably heard them reference the phenomenon known as the “runner’s high.” A runners high is typically attributed to the rush of endorphins that are released into the body during exercise, leading to a sense of euphoria as well decreased sensations of pain during physical activity. Scientists now believe that there may be more to this “high” than just endorphins, and it has to do with a very different hormone called leptin.

Leptin is a hormone secreted by your fat cells, used to signal to your brain when you’re done eating. In a new paper recently published in Cell Metabolism, researchers discovered that the levels of leptin produced by the body may play a key role in our motivation to exercise.

When researchers began observing a group of mice that had been genetically modified to produce lower levels of leptin, they noticed that they chose to run on exercise wheels more often and for longer than mice who produced normal levels of the hormone.

Researchers wanted to test whether this hormonal differentiator led to increased motivation to exercise in the long-term, so they placed their group of highly-motivated mice in an area with a divider separating the space into two chambers. One chamber had a running wheel in it; the other did not.

They then let let the mice run to their hearts content for several days. When they finally removed the wheel, they noticed that the mice continued to show a distinct preference for the chamber that had once housed the running wheel, even though it no longer there. Scientists believed that even after the wheel was gone, the mice were still associating the room with exercise and its euphoric rewards.

From these experiments, researchers deduced that the more active rodents must have been experiencing their own version a “runner’s high” that kept them more motivated to be active and that levels of leptin played a key role in the degree to which the mice experienced this benefit.

Obviously our bodies and psychology are a complex system that cannot be solved by leptin levels alone, but it’s an incredibly interesting finding that supports the importance of hormonal balance when it comes to health, weight, and motivation to work out.

Co-author Stephanie Fulton, a neurobiologist at the University of Montreal, speculates that leptin alone is not responsible for this behavioral change, but that leptin in fact could be working in concert with endorphins to trigger these animals “runner’s high.”

Understanding our hormonal status in connection with our genetic and environmental factors will help us more fully understand what and how the world and our bodies influence our diet and exercise habits. The more we know, the better we can prevent and treat obesity and it’s related health issues.

Dr. Andrew Rudin, MD is a Cardiologist in New York. To learn more about his background, please visit his main website.

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