exercise happy

Why Does Exercise Make You Happy?

by | Jan 3, 2024 | Mental Health

Have you ever felt that your mood improved after you exercised? 

There’s a reason for that — exercise has many health benefits, like improving your mood, leaving you feeling happier and less stressed. 

It is common to believe that the physical stress exercise puts on the body causes stress all around, but it’s the opposite. Exercise plays a role in hormone production which impacts our mood, stress levels, sleep, and cognitive abilities.  

How Exercise Can Improve Your Mood

Many people turn to exercise to reduce stress. It allows them to disconnect from their problems and leaves them feeling less anxious.

This is because physical activity reduces cortisol and adrenaline which reduces stress. Just taking a mile-long walk is enough to reduce feelings of stress.  

Physical activity increases the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.

These are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators, and are responsible for the so-called “runner’s high” that people experience after going for a run. 

Other types of physical activity produce endorphins too, such as yoga, tennis, or hiking. Endorphins have been found to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve sleep quality. (1) 

Along with endorphins, dopamine and serotonin production are also increased with physical activity. These help to boost mood, lower stress, and improve memory and problem-solving. (2)

Additionally, exercise increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen and blood to the brain. This results in greater cognitive functions like memory and attention. 

Where Should I Start?

Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week to reap the mood-boosting benefits of exercise. If this seems overwhelming, start slow. Any physical activity is better than none. Start with 15-20 minutes of walking, yoga, or strength training, and increase the duration when you feel you can.  

If you’re having trouble getting started or finding motivation, ask a friend or your spouse to exercise with you. Exercise can also serve as a social activity, allowing you to connect with others and form both friendships and support networks. These social connections can provide a sense of belonging and contribute to feelings of happiness.  

The physical and mental health benefits of exercise can lead to improved overall well-being and happiness. It is important to remember that the benefits of exercise are not just limited to physical fitness but also extend to mental and emotional well-being.

Regular exercise can help to improve mood, reduce stress, and increase feelings of happiness and contentment. 

Resources 

(1) Carek PJ, Laibstain SE, Carek SM. Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Int J Psychiatry Med. 2011;41(1):15-28. doi: 10.2190/PM.41.1.c. PMID: 21495519.

(2)  Basso JC, Suzuki WA. The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plast. 2017 Mar 28;2(2):127-152. doi: 10.3233/BPL-160040. PMID: 29765853; PMCID: PMC5928534. 

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