When you ride, you get a spike in neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that relieve pain and improve mood, says Kim Chronister, PsyD, a psychologist in Los Angeles. You also get a hit of endorphins, which triggers the same receptors in your brain as some pain medicines.
If you’ve ever referred to cycling as your “drug,” it won’t surprise you to hear that exercising and smoking pot may affect the same regions of the brain. In a 2015 study on mice, researchers noticed that after running on a wheel, the animals showed less anxious behavior. But when the scientists blocked their endocannabinoid receptors (the same ones that marijuana targets), the mice didn’t seem to get these benefits after exercising.
Researchers have found similar evidence in human studies. In one, subjects either ran or pedaled at a moderate intensity or sat for 50 minutes. Scientists found high blood levels of anandamide—a chemical that binds to endocannabinoid receptors—in the exercisers but not in sedentary volunteers.
Even better? Habitual exercise creates new dopamine receptors, says Chronister. This means that more of the dopamine you produce actually gets to your brain. Bottom line: Ride often, and you’ll always ride happy.