Want to be a tough guy? Easy: hit the gym. Not only will you get stronger, but you’ll improve your pain tolerance.
According to a new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the more you exercise, the more your tolerance for physical pain will grow. Researchers recruited twelve healthy young adults who didn’t exercise regularly but wanted to start and twelve healthy young adults who didn’t exercise regularly and had no interest in starting. The young had both their pain threshold (i.e., when physical sensation became pain) and their pain tolerance (i.e., how long they could remain in pain) measured in the lab.
Pain threshold was measured by using a probe and applying pressure against the skin; when subjects said “stop”, that was the moment of pain threshold. Pain tolerance was measured with use of a blood pressure cuff and a special testing device subjects had to squeeze in their hand while the cuff was inflated. Subjects did this for as long as possible.
After testing, the group interested in exercising started stationary bicycling three times a week for thirty minutes a session. The other group went back to not exercising, and presumably watching Netflix.
Six weeks later, subjects returned to the lab and retook the pain threshold and tolerance tests. The group who did not exercise showed no change. However, the group that took up exercising were better able to tolerate pain. Their pain thresholds remained the same as before, but they managed to withstand pain for a longer time. Further, subjects who’s fitness had improved the most also improved their pain tolerance the most.
The take-home is pretty simple: exercise and you get better at dealing with pain. Don’t exercise, and remain a weenie.