The Magic of Making Hope Chemicals

The Magic of Making Hope Chemicals

Let’s be real, everyone could benefit from a little more hope in their lives, but what if you could literally manufacture “hope” at will!? Through the fascinating world of exercise and its profound impact on our neurochemistry, you can! I’d like to introduce you to the fascinating science of "hope chemicals." These are 100% natural substances our bodies produce that not only enhance our physical well-being but also elevate our mood, sharpen our minds, and, in essence, sprinkle a little bit of hope into our daily lives. Let's dive into this incredible area of brain chemistry, and discover how staying active can be a game-changer for our mental health.

Endorphins: The Natural Painkiller

If you've ever gone for a vigorous run or an intense exercise session, you've redoubtably experienced a wave of euphoria. Those little wonders are endorphins at work, also known as the body's natural painkillers[1]. These amazing chemicals are produced in response to physical stress and pain, helping to alleviate discomfort and elevate mood. That phenomenon known as the "runner's high" is a perfect example of what these endorphins can make you feel[2]. Aside from their bliss manufacturing abilities and powerful painkilling effects, endorphins play a crucial role in reducing stress and anxiety, making them a key player in anyone's mental health toolkit[3].

Serotonin: The Mood Regulator

Serotonin is yet another amazing brain chemical that’s influenced by exercise[4]. Widely accepted for its role in mood regulation, serotonin helps foster a sense of well-being and happiness[5]. Regular physical activity is able to boost serotonin levels, which improves appetite, sleep, memory, and our moods[6]. Low levels of serotonin are often associated with depression and anxiety[7], which is why people who experience these conditions are often prescribed antidepressant drugs. His further highlights the importance of exercise as a natural remedy for enhancing mental health.

Dopamine: The Reward Chemical

Dopamine is what I like to call, our Get-up-and-Go chemical! Higher levels of dopamine are associated with motivation, pleasure, and reward. This neurotransmitter is what drives us to seek out adventures, hobbies and activities that feel rewarding, including exercise. Regular physical activity increases dopamine levels[8], which in turn elevates motivation, good moods, and improves emotional responses[9]. The role of dopamine goes way beyond just feeling good; it's also crucial for regulating movement and emotional responses, making it a vital component of our overall mental health strategy[10].

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): The Brain’s Fertilizer

BDNF is kind of like your brain on steroids, as it is works to promote the growth and maintenance of neurons[11]. Research shows that regular exercise stimulates the production of BDNF, which supports neuro plasticity, the brain's ability to constantly change and adapt. Aside from this incredible feat, BDNF also enhances our ability to learn and memorize new things[12]. BDNF not only supports the integrity of our existing brain cells, but it’s also been shown to promote the growth of new brain cells and even protect us against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia[13]. If this one reason alone isn’t enough to kick you in your butt to get off the couch, I don’t know what would!

Exercise Recommendations: Finding Your Rhythm

So now that you are aware that all you need to do is move your body to make these hope chemicals, the question is, are you gonna get going?  Whether it's lifting weights, running, cycling, swimming, or even brisk walking, all forms of exercise help boost the levels of these beneficial brain chemicals. So where to start? Current research supports engaging in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, spread out over several days, to reap the numerous mental health benefits[14]. Consistency is key; as regular, sustained exercise has a cumulative effect on the production of hope chemicals, leading to long-term improvements in mood, cognitive function, and overall mental health[15].

Your Brain on Exercise: Sharper, Happier, Healthier

The brain enhancing benefits of regular exercise extend far beyond the immediate manufacturing of hope chemicals. Studies have shown that consistent physical activity also enhance attention, memory, and our ability to concentrate[16]. As alluded to above, exercise has been linked to a lower risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia[17], underscoring its role in maintaining cognitive health throughout our life.


The connection between exercise and the production of hope chemicals offers a powerful reminder of the holistic benefits of physical activity. By incorporating regular exercise into our routines, we can tap into the body's natural ability to heal, uplift, and rejuvenate itself. So, lace up those sneakers, hit the pavement, or find your joy in movement, and let the magic of making hope chemicals illuminate your path to a happier, healthier you.




[1] Cohen, D. (2020). Exercise your endorphins. In Surviving Lockdown (pp. 86–90). Routledge.

[2] Schoenfeld, T. J., & Swanson, C. (2021). A runner’s high for new neurons? Potential role for endorphins in exercise effects on adult neurogenesis. Biomolecules, 11(8), 1077.

[3] Hildebrandt, T., et al. (2014). Exercise reinforcement, stress, and β-endorphins: an initial examination of exercise in anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 139, 86–92. [](

[4] Lee, E., et al. (2024). Estrogen deficiency reduces maximal running capacity and affects serotonin levels differently in the hippocampus and nucleus accumbens in response to acute exercise. In bioRxiv.

[5] Wigati, K. W., et al. (2023). The effect of 4 week-long swimming exercise intervention on increased serotonin levels in male mice (Mus musculus). Comparative Exercise Physiology, 19(4), 361–370.

[6] Meeusen, R., & De Meirleir, K. (1995). Exercise and brain neurotransmission. Sports Medicine, 20(3), 160–188.

[7] Moroianu, L.-A., et al. (2022). Clinical study of serum serotonin as a screening marker for anxiety and depression in patients with type 2 diabetes. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania), 58(5), 652.

[8] Tyler, J., et al. (2023). High intensity interval training exercise increases dopamine D2 levels and modulates brain dopamine signaling. Frontiers in Public Health, 11.

[9] Yavuz, A., Sari, İ., Habipoğlu, S., & Ayan, D. (2022). The effects of moderate-intensity step-aerobics, spinning, and educational game exercise programs on plasma dopamine and oxytocin levels in women in the menopausal transition period. Journal of Surgery and Medicine, 6(9), 803–808.

[10] Beaulieu, J.-M., & Gainetdinov, R. R. (2011). The physiology, signaling, and pharmacology of dopamine receptors. Pharmacological Reviews, 63(1), 182–217.

[11] Cefis, M., et al. (2023). Molecular mechanisms underlying physical exercise-induced brain BDNF overproduction. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 16, 1275924.

[12] aynman, S., Ying, Z., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2004). Hippocampal BDNF mediates the efficacy of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition. The European Journal of Neuroscience, 20(10), 2580–2590.

[13] Huang, Y.-Y., et al. (2020). BDNF and its multirole function in neurogenesis, synaptic transmission and neurodegenerative diseases. Nano LIFE, 10(01n02), 2040007.

[14] Yue, Y., & Xiao, H. (2023). Effects of moderate-intensity physical training on students’ mental health recovery. Revista Brasileira de Medicina Do Esporte, 29.

[15] Xu, L., et al. (2023). The effects of exercise for cognitive function in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(2).

[16] Haapala, E. (2012). Physical activity, academic performance and cognition in children and adolescents. A systematic review. Baltic Journal of Health and Physical Activity, 4(1).

[17] López-Ortiz, S., et al. (2021). Physical exercise and Alzheimer’s disease: Effects on pathophysiological molecular pathways of the disease. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(6), 2897.

Older post Newer post