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Brain Derived Neutrophic Factor produced at different exercise intensities. The ‘*’ represents 55% effort and the ‘***’ represents 75% effort.

Exercise is an easy life hack. It provides us with many rewards from mood boosts to improved memory. Two specific studies took a closer look at how exercise can reduce our sensitivity to pain. Our bodies internally produce anandamide (AEA) among other endocannabinoids during exercise.  AEA binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain in the same way THC does. AEA has been shown to lower our pain sensitivity, aids in performance, increases BDNF and leaves us with a feeling of well-being. These endocannabinoids provide such a powerful reward system that they might be part of the motivation to exercise in the first place.
Taking a leisurely walk or sprinting at high intensity will not produce a signifcant amount of of the pain numbing AEA. However, slow jogging and comfortable cycling have both been shown to be the ideal way to produce the highest concentrations of this cannabinoid. The ideal effort level is between 70 – 85% to produce the highest concentrations of AEA. With 75% being the most well researched. Let’s take a look at applying these results to a real life trianing plan with the goal of reducing our pain sensitivity.
Estimating maximum heart rate:
The easy way to guess at your maximum heart rate without a treadmill VO2Max test is to use this fomula:
  • 220 BPM – AGE = 180 BPM
Training Plan:
Based on my own maximum heart rate of 184 BPM I added in example values on right in brackets.
  • first 60 minutes – < 55% [100 BPM]
  • next 30 minutes – < 75% [138 BPM]
Running Speed:
  • average for 32 year olds in good physical health
  • peak anandamide: 2.5 meters/sec
  • translates to about 5.6 mph
  • 10:43 min / mile pace


Our training can be tailored to meet different goals based on heart rate. While this might not sound like a surprise the research is offering us more than old model of “burn fat” or “get faster”. Now that cognitive, mood and reduced pain have been mapped to levels of effort we can spend more time in those zones to take advantage of those rewards.

  1. (2013) Exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling is modulated by intensity – https://www.raichlen.arizona.edu/DavePDF/RaichlenEtAl2013.pdf#page6