Why To Exercise Today: Better Pain Tolerance

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From NPR's "Shots" blog: The journal "Pain" has just published a study finding that athletes tend to have higher pain tolerance than non-athletes.

A fresh analysis of studies on pain perception by researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany finds that athletes can tolerate more pain than non-athletes. And, the researchers conclude, regular physical activity can change the way practically anyone perceives and tolerates pain.

Of course one size doesn't fit all when it comes to pain relief, but the German researchers think that exercise could help people with chronic pain learn how to better deal with it. The findings appear today in the journal Pain.

The researchers looked at 15 studies that evaluated people's pain threshold, comparing the jocks with the couch potatoes. The athletes — and especially endurance athletes — consistently seem better equipped to grin and bear pain than non-athletes.

But athletes don't seem to have a higher threshold for pain than others. In other words, most people recognize pain the same way. Athletes can just stand more of it longer.

That seems to be because athletes tend to develop coping skills in their training.

This program aired on May 18, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.