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Why Exercise Makes Us Happier


Have you ever wondered why exercise is recommended to improve moods and relieve stress? It is likely the effect that exercise has on increasing serotonin activity in the brain. Serotonin is important for balancing moods and has a calming effect on the brain and body.

Exercise, Serotonin, and Mood

According to studies, physical activity increases the firing rates of serotonin neurons, which results in increased release and synthesis of serotonin [1]. Research has also found that these mood-improving effects may persist even after you have exercised due to an increase of available, or non-albumin-bound (NAB), plasma tryptophan during physical activity.

Tryptophan is considered an essential amino acid and is obtained through the diet. It is also the biological precursor to serotonin. More amounts of free tryptophan mean more potential for serotonin to be produced. The amount of non-albumin bound (NAB) tryptophan depends on two things: the amount of albumin and non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs) [2]. Research has found that aerobic plus anaerobic exercise may produce more NEFAs [3]. NEFAs and tryptophan bind to albumin at the same site, which suggests that NEFAs can displace tryptophan at these binding sites, freeing up more tryptophan to produce more serotonin [2].

Exercise Breaks Down Barriers to Serotonin Synthesis

There is one more important factor in this serotonin-stimulating process. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are found alongside tryptophan in blood plasma and use the same carrier system to pass the blood-brain barrier [4]. Again, tryptophan can be displaced by BCAAs when competing to bind to a transporter. Exercise has been found to promote BCAA catabolism [5], leaving more readily transferable tryptophan than BCAAs in the bloodstream. Thus, more tryptophan is able to bind and travel to the brain, where it may then be converted to serotonin.

While there are several natural methods to boosting serotonin levels, physical activity also has other health benefits, such as controlling weight and boosting energy. Why not reap all of these benefits while improving your mood by exercising?

Not Feeling the Mood-boosting Effect of Exercise?

While research has shown exercise can increase serotonin levels, tryptophan is required as the precursor. However, tryptophan can be depleted by repeated stress or diverted to the kynurenine pathway if inflammation is present, making it hard to produce enough serotonin to boost your mood. Neurotransmitter testing in urine can identify depleted serotonin levels. If they are low, additional tryptophan or the more immediate serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) can be taken as a supplement to help support healthy serotonin levels.

Sanesco works with NeuroLab to offer urinary neurotransmitter testing and offers Prolent, a serotonin-supporting formula. Find a provider near you or become a provider.


  1. Young, SN. 2007. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 32(6): 394-399
  2. Agranoff, B. W., & Aprison, M. H. (1977). Advances in neurochemistry. 2: Pg. 142. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  3. Salvadori, A., Fanari, P., Marzullo, P., Codescasa, F., Tovaglieri, I., Cornacchia, M., Brunani, A., Luzi, L., and Longhini, E. 2014. Short bouts of anaerobic exercise increase non-esterified fatty acids release in obesity. European Journal of Nutrition. 53(1): 243-249
  4. Newsholme, EA and Blomstrand E. 2006. Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Central Fatigue. The Journal of Nutrition. 136(1): 2745-2765
  5. Shimomura, Y., Murakami, T., Nakai, N., Nagasaki, M., and Harris, RA. 2004. Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise. The Journal of Nutrition. 134(6): 15835-15875

Clinical Contributor

Annabelle Bennett

Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco International, Inc.

Annabelle Bennett is a Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco. She is a recent Clemson University alumnus with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. She enjoys getting her dopamine boosts from coffee, the beach, and her two little dogs.

Connie Shoemaker, ND

Connie Shoemaker, ND

“Educating Sanesco’s clients is the culmination of a life’s work.” Beginning when she left the hospital environment to manage a functional laboratory, Genova Diagnostics (formerly Great Smokies Laboratories) in 1987, Dr. Connie Shoemaker has continued to increase her knowledge of herbs and biochemistry as a journey of love. With her bachelor’s in science from Western Carolina University, she had worked in hospital laboratories for the first twelve years of her career. Then, personal health challenges led her to discover a new approach to her health and a determination to share it with others. In 1991, she began teaching and educating innovative practitioners in the U.S. and internationally as a manager of marketing, sales, and customer service.

The addition of her Doctor of Naturopathy degree to her existing knowledge base expanded her knowledge and her respect for a more natural approach to healing through balance. At Sanesco, she initially served to oversee technical development of products and services.

Now, she educates Sanesco’s clients on application of the CSM™ model for their specific patients and how to integrate the CSM™ model with other modalities they offer in their practice. In her personal life, Connie educates private clients on various health topics.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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