top of page

The Emotional After Effects of Physical Work

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

It is well known that any physical activity has after effects on what we may – tentatively – call mental and emotional states. Most of the time this is about as specifically as we go when talking and thinking about such matters.

Why is this important anyway?

These after effects have real world practical application, in fact many (most?) people utilize them to various degrees daily. If you we are stuck on a particular problem at work, or going through a tough time they are tools of primary importance. Invariably going for a long walk or doing vigourous physical training aids in the digestion of the issue and we can work through it more easily.

Another piece of the puzzle: In contemporary society it is most common to run across discussions of such phenomenon in endurance events. “Runners High” describe the feeling of euphoria that comes after long runs. The description of these states goes along the lines of “a potent cocktail of endegenously produced chemicals is released in the time immediately following exercise”, these chemicals are often termed endorphins.

What I want to suggest here is that these ‘after effects’ are specific to the type of physical activity undertaken. And that because of this that a taxonomy for the ‘medicinal’ use of physical work could be systematically cultivated. And that such a thing would be a cultural treasure of greater import than the advent of yet another drug to fight the very same mental and emotional problems.

My observations at least seems to indicate that the after effects of a long run aren’t the same as you get from strength work. Not better or worse, just different. Which again differs from what you get from good martial arts. On that note, the most potent effects I have experienced so far has come from BJJ practice. Only slightly eeking out the super classic 20 rep squat experience.

The poindexter may point out that 20 rep squats is an antequated method and more modern systems in keeping with cutting edge physiology exist. Maybe it is antequated, but usually this critique usually comes from someone who rarely lifts anything heavier than a computer mouse. And as such can be ignored. The deeper point however is that training physiology notwithstanding that there may be other reasons to opt for either a low or high volume approach depending on what the situation calls for.

Coming back to the development of such a system, it will also need to distinguish between short term and long term effects – as well as individual responsiveness. Your mileage will most definitely vary. In both strength and martial arts communities it is known that there are character forming effects from long term practice [and that really that is where the gold is at].

The movement in allopathic medicine of prescribing exercise surely is one step in the right direction. But at the same time the simplicity of the suggestions offered are making a mockery of what it could be. For one Western medicine has had an unholy alliance with cardiovascular training for the past century. Another point to emphasize here is that the general level of physical education in the population at large means that such prescriptions becomes a haphazard suggestion at best.

For the time being the best that can be done for the inquisitive soul is probably to go experiment with different disciplines, with an open mind, and see how other things in life change in concert with this. Feel free to leave a comment, or send me a message with your own observations in this field.

[This blog was first posted on]

bottom of page