Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Why Exercise Improves Mood

The mood boost, sometimes called the runner’s high, following exercise was thought to be due to an increase in endorphins.  Recent research shows that it is more likely to be attributed to endocannabinoids. 

Cannabinoids you may already be familiar with include THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and CBD, an extract of cannabis that is infused in food, oils, and other products. 

Endocannabinoids are tiny fat molecules that are produced within our bodies and that activate the cannabinoid receptors in our brain and body.  The positive effects of endocannabinoids include reducing stress, anxiety, and pain, and enhancing learning and memory. 

A review of 33 studies on exercise and endocannabinoids revealed that exercisers experience a significant increase in Anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule” because of its positive impact on mood, after a running or cycling session.  Moderate levels of activity, such as running or cycling, are more effective at increasing Anandamide than lower levels of activity, such as walking.

Takeaway:  Moderate exercise is a mental health intervention that can improve your mood quickly. 


Desai, S. et al., A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Exercise on the Endocannabinoid System, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, Dec 3, 2021, A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis on the Effects of Exercise on the Endocannabinoid System | Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

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