Woman having vigorous workout, strenuous exercise routine with ropes

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TROMSØ, Norway — The old saying about exercise is “no pain, no gain” — but it turns out that might be a little backwards. According to a new study, individuals who engage in more physical activity end up having a higher tolerance for pain. These findings propose that an increasing exercise could be a potential strategy for managing chronic pain.

A group of researchers evaluated data from over 10,000 Norwegian adults participating in a large-scale population survey. They used data from two rounds of the Tromsø Study, carried out between 2007-2008 and 2015-2016.

Each participant self-reported their level of physical activity and assessed their pain tolerance. To determine their pain threshold, they were asked to submerge their hand in cold water. The findings revealed that individuals who exercised more had a higher pain tolerance.

Those who were physically active in either round of the study demonstrated a better capacity to handle pain compared to those who reported a sedentary lifestyle in both instances. Participants who were more physically active in the earlier survey also exhibited a higher overall pain tolerance.

Scroll down to see 3 unconventional ways of relieving pain

man in black t-shirt and black shorts running on road during daytime
Becoming or staying physically active over time can benefit your pain tolerance. Photo by Gabin Vallet

Previous studies have implied that physical activity could help alleviate or prevent chronic pain. However, most research on this subject has been limited to small or narrowly defined groups. By utilizing a larger participant pool, researchers are now more confident in suggesting that increasing physical activity could serve as a viable method for managing chronic pain.

Future research could help verify whether there is a causal relationship between physical activity and pain tolerance and could potentially unveil new therapeutic treatments.

“Becoming or staying physically active over time can benefit your pain tolerance,” says study author Dr. Anders Årnes from the University Hospital of North Norway, Tromsø, in a media release. “No matter what you choose to do, the key is to stay active!”

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

3 unconventional ways to relieve pain

  • Music: A number of studies show that listening to music, even for less than an hour, can reduce feelings of pain and anxiety. In one study, scientists found patients with cancer or sickle cell disease (SCD) receiving treatment at an academic cancer center reported feeling significantly less pain and anxiety after undergoing music therapy. In another, study participants who were under the impression that they were in control of their own tunes reported less pain than others who did not have musical independence.
  • Medical marijuana: In 2022, researchers reported that medicinal cannabis can serve as a viable pain management alternative to opioids. After surveying thousands of people, study authors found that patients using medical marijuana were in less pain and functioned better both physically and socially.
  • Nostalgia: Scientists in China say taking a break to go down “Memory Lane” and enjoy a moment of nostalgia really does relieve general aches and pains. The study revealed that yearning for a “simpler time” reduces brain activity and could help people overcome low levels of pain like headaches.

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South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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