In an article published in 2009 (and referenced in this week’s NYTimes blog about laughter), a group in England investigated the pain threshold in rowers who worked out either in teams of six or by themselves. They used pain threshold as a corollary for endorphin levels; the higher the pain threshold, the higher the expected endorphin release. (Endorphins are the molecules responsible for exercise's euphoric and pain suppressing effects, aka "runner's high.") Collegiate rowers each performed two tests on a stationary rowing machine: one rowing alone and one in the presence of teammates. The length of time and the power output were the same for both tests, so the other teammates weren't actually helping the work load decrease. To measure their pain thresholds, the rowers' ability to tolerate a blood pressure cuff being inflated on their arm was measured before and after the workout. As expected, they tolerated pain better after the workout than before. Gotta love those endorphins.
What’s interesting was that the rowers also tolerated pain better when they worked out with a group. Besides having teammates that hold you accountable and push you to work harder to keep up with them, teammates also make you feel less pain. It seems that the loneliness of the long distance
runner rower is a more painful path. The authors speculate that "synchronized physical activity" helps boost levels of pain relieving molecules and this may promote bonding among group members. Anyone who has survived a hard track workout with a group already knows it bonds you. And now it seems your pain tolerance is the better for it too!
Note: Don't worry! I did survive the Army Ten Miler this past weekend and you'll hear the whole story if you tune in next week. I just couldn't resist a Science Friday this week.
Dream big and with friends,