People plunged their hands into cold water to test their pain tolerance
Even walking for four hours a week can improve your tolerance for pain, a study suggests, which experts hope could potentially mean less need for painkillers to cope with everyday health issues like headaches and back pain.
Researchers looked at more than 10,700 people, who were asked to select one of four categories for their average physical activity in the past year.
If they did training or sporting competitions several times a week, they could select the vigorous activity category, or they could select the moderate activity category if they did things like tennis or heavy gardening for at least four hours a week.
If they walked, cycled or did similar exercise at least four hours a week, they selected the light exercise category, and if they typically did sitting activities, they fell into the sedentary group.
It is well known that exercise reduces everyday aches and twinges, by keeping joints supple. But the results suggest fitter people may feel any pain they do suffer less intensely
All these people plunged their hands into cold water, for as long as they could stand it, to test their pain tolerance.
The most active people, in the vigorous activity category, could keep their hand in the water for more than 16 seconds longer than people in the sedentary group.
But even those in the light activity category could stand the pain for almost seven seconds longer than sedentary people.
It is well known that exercise reduces everyday aches and twinges, by keeping joints supple.
But the results suggest fitter people may feel any pain they do suffer less intensely.
Anders Arnes, who led the study from University Hospital of North Norway, said: ‘Exercise may have an effect on the same pathways in the brain as painkillers like morphine, although to a far smaller degree.
‘Our results suggest regular physical activity can help improve pain tolerance, just like the so-called “runner’s high” we get after a jog can make pain seem less painful.
‘There are studies suggesting people who are more active use painkillers less often, and we wonder if these effects from being active could even make things like childbirth feel a bit less painful, although far more research would be needed to establish that.’
Previous studies have suggested that athletes have a higher tolerance to pain compared to other people.