Getting into a regular exercise routine has numerous benefits for both mental and physical health. A recent study has found that regular physical activity can increase an individual’s threshold for pain tolerance. The research was carried out by institutions in Norway and involved 10,732 adults, with two sets of data collected seven to eight years apart. The researchers compared exercise routines with pain tolerance, as measured via a cold pressor test (CPT), where participants had to put their hand into frigid water for as long as possible, up to a maximum tolerance time of 106 seconds.
Results and Observations
The study found that people who were more active had a better capacity to handle the pain of the cold water for a more extended period. Those who increased their activity levels over the two survey points also increased their pain threshold. The researchers noted that “being physically active at either of two-time points measured at a 7-8-year interval was associated with higher pain tolerance compared to being sedentary at both time points.” The study also showed that those who reported regular physical activity kept their hands submerged in icy water for an average of 6.7 seconds longer than those who did not exercise at all. For those who regularly engaged in vigorous physical activity, that went up to 16.3 seconds. For those participants who recorded high exercise levels at both survey points, the average went up to 20.4 seconds.
It is worth noting that this observational study cannot prove that more exercise is directly causing more resistance to pain. Other factors may play a more significant role. However, the link between exercise and pain tolerance is strong enough to be notable.
Implications and Future Research
The researchers are interested in the impact of exercise on chronic pain. Previous research in this area has been limited in scope but suggests a link between physical activity and how the body manages pain. The increased pain tolerance observed in this study may reduce the risk of chronic pain developing later in life. Although there is not much evidence for this right now, the study authors want to investigate this further.
The study’s results suggest that “becoming or remaining active at a level above being sedentary, or making a positive change in activity level, over time is associated with higher pain tolerance as opposed to being sedentary or making a negative change.” The researchers suggest that increased physical activity levels may be a possible non-pharmacological pathway towards reducing or preventing chronic pain.
The study indicates that regular physical activity can increase an individual’s tolerance for pain. Those who were more active had a better capacity for handling the pain of cold water for a more extended period. The study’s findings suggest that staying active or making a positive change in activity level over time is linked to higher pain tolerance. The researchers suggest that physical activity may be a non-pharmacological method for reducing or preventing chronic pain.