Exercise is a natural painkiller, according to science – but no-one knows why

Suffering from chronic pain? Exercise could be highly beneficial to those who struggle, especially with lower back pain

Man experiencing exercise pain relief
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Exercise does a lot of good. The best exercises for weight loss, obviously, help us lose weight and improve cardiovascular fitness, which prevents a lot of health issues in later life. Working out with weights or resistance bands can help us to build muscle, while yoga can improve our flexibility, core strength and mindfulness skills. 

However, exercise has another surprising benefit you might not have known about: the ability relieve sufferers of chronic pain, especially lower back pain. If you've been working from home (and you haven't been using one of our best office chair entries) you might be suffering from poor posture, which is a big contributor to back pain issues. 

Fortunately, exercise can help, although no-one seems to know why. One study, published by researchers at the University of New South Wales, examined 110 research papers which represent an estimated several thousand study participants with chronic lower back pain in an attempt to find some common threads. They discovered that exercise provided plenty of benefits. 


(Image credit: Christopher Campbell/Unsplash)

Senior author Dr Matt Jones said: "Lower back pain is associated with a significant burden both for the individual and society -- i.e., through healthcare costs. A lot of treatments have stemmed from studies for people with CLBP (for example, medications, manual therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy), but the one with the most consistent evidence of benefit is exercise.

"Researchers proposed common reasons as to why exercise was beneficial, including improvements in fitness -- for example, core stability, aerobic fitness -- and improvements in mood and confidence". However, those theories are highly variable and inconclusive.

This isn't the first time exercise has been recommended for sufferers of chronic pain. The UK's National Health Service recommends chronic pain sufferers try walking, swimming or using one of the best exercise bikes, while another review of studies found "physical activity and exercise is an intervention with few adverse events that may improve pain severity and physical function, and consequent quality of life."

If you've got chronic pain, especially in your back, walking is a great way to get started. It's easy to incorporate into your day, is more accessible to all fitness levels than running, and just requires a pair of the best shoes for walking to get started.

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.