We all either are aware, have been told, have heard or read that Exercise is good for health.
People tend to think that it is only good for physical health and wellbeing. Research has proven that the benefits of Exercise extend beyond the Physical, to mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. Positive psychology is a relatively new field of study that aims to understand and promote human well-being and happiness. Positive psychology aims to help people build on their strengths and lead fulfilling lives.
Exercise makes us happier, as science has shown clearly. As we exercise, a bunch of chemicals are released into the brain which impact our moods. The most significant of these are: Serotonin (5-HT), Norepinephrine (NE), Dopamine (DA), BDNF, Leptin and Endorphins.
Yoga, an ancient Indian philosophy and evidence based practice has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health and well-being. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and increase feelings of calm and relaxation through similar mechanisms. Additionally, yoga can also improve physical health by increasing flexibility, strength, and balance. This other article dives a little deeper into the various benefits of Yoga.
Let us look at several other effects of exercise contributing to our happiness and wellbeing.
- Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects.
Endorphins are hormones that are released in the brain during exercise from the pituitary gland. They have mood-boosting effects and can help to reduce pain, and increase feelings of wellbeing . (Goldfarb 1997 β-Endorphin Response to Exercise | SpringerLink)
- Exercise can help to improve self-esteem and body image.
When people exercise, they often feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. This can lead to increased self-esteem and a more positive body image. (Dishman, 1990 The determinants of physical activity and exercise – PubMed (nih.gov); Raglin, J Exercise and Mental Health | SpringerLink)
- Exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
When people exercise, their bodies release endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects, and lessen anxiety, depression and stress overwhelm. Exercise can also help to distract people from their worries and to focus on the present moment. (Salmon, 2001 Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory – PubMed (nih.gov))
- Exercise can help to improve sleep quality.
When people exercise, they often feel tired and ready for bed at the end of the day. Exercise can also help to regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Moderate exercise showed more promising outcome on sleep quality than vigorous exercise. (Full article: The effect of physical activity on sleep quality: a systematic review (tandfonline.com) Wang and Boros 2019)
- Exercise can help to connect people with others.
When people exercise, they often join gyms, sports teams, or other groups. This can help them to meet new people and to build social support networks. Even social interactions with the more peripheral members of our social networks contribute to our well-being. (Trost et al., 2002 Correlates of adults’ participation in physical activity: review and update – PubMed (nih.gov); Sandstorm 2014 Social Interactions and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Exercise can help to improve cognitive function.
When people exercise, their brains release chemicals that can improve memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. (Colcombe et al., 2003 Fitness effects on the cognitive function of older adults: a meta-analytic study – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Exercise can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Exercise can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer, leading to better wellbeing. (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2018, Scientific Report | health.gov; Thompson et al 2020 Exercise Is Medicine – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Exercise can help to extend lifespan.
Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly tend to live longer than those who do not exercise. (Paffenbarger et al., 1986 Physical activity, all-cause mortality, and longevity of college alumni – PubMed (nih.gov)) The nearly maximum association with lower mortality was achieved by performing ≈150 to 300 min/wk of long-term leisure-time VPA, 300 to 600 min/wk of long-term leisure-time MPA, or an equivalent combination of both. Long-Term Leisure-Time Physical Activity Intensity and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort of US Adults | Circulation (ahajournals.org)
Further Readings and recommendations:
- Why the Brain is Built for Movement | Anders Hansen | TEDxUmeå – YouTube
- Snack on Exercise – Boost Your Mind, Body and Mood | Lauren Parsons | TEDxOneonta – YouTube
- The Exercise Happiness Paradox | Chris Wharton | TEDxSevenoaks – YouTube
- Move Your Body—Turn On Your Brain! | Jeff Galloway | TEDxJacksonville – YouTube
- Stanford Psychologist Reveals One Change That Will Dramatically Improve Your Life | Kelly McGonigal – YouTube
- Exercise is brain food | Angela Ridgel | TEDxKentState – YouTube
- How exercise can fight loneliness and depression – YouTube
- Movement Makes Us Human: Kelly McGonigal, PhD | Rich Roll Podcast – YouTube
- Exercise Pushes Your Happiness Button – YouTube
- The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt: This book explores the science of happiness and how we can live happier lives.
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: This book explains the science of habits and how we can break bad habits and create good ones.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey: This book outlines seven habits that can help you become more successful in all areas of your life.
- The Exercise Habit: How to Make Exercise a Part of Your Life: This book by James Clear provides tips and strategies for making exercise a regular part of your life.
- The Joy of Running: A Runner’s Guide to Finding Happiness and Finding Yourself: This book by Chris McDougall explores the mental and emotional benefits of running.
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain: This book by John Ratey MD explains how exercise can improve our brain function and cognitive abilities.
- The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage. The book’s author, psychologist Kelly McGonigal, has tips about how to add more movement to your life, and how walking just one more minute a day can have a positive impact on your mental health .
Articles, Podcasts and Blogs:
- Exercise And Mood: How Moving Your Body Boosts Your Mood (happyproject.in)
- The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos on Apple Podcasts
If you are a Health Care professional, here are some ways to share the information about exercise and happiness to your patients:
• Talk to them about the benefits of exercise. Explain how exercise can improve their mood, reduce stress, and increase their energy levels.
• Provide them with resources. Give them articles, websites, or books that they can read about the benefits of exercise.
• Encourage them to start slowly. Tell them that they don’t have to start with a lot of exercise, and that even a little bit of exercise is better than none at all.
• Be supportive. Let them know that you’re there to support them and that you believe in them.
• Help them find an activity that they enjoy. There are many different types of exercise, so help them find one that they enjoy and that they’ll stick with.
Here are some additional tips for sharing the information about exercise and happiness to your patients:
• Be patient. It may take some time for your patients to make exercise a regular part of their lives. Be patient and supportive, and encourage them to keep going even when it’s tough.
• Make it fun. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. There are many ways to make exercise fun, so find activities that your patients enjoy.
• Set realistic goals. Don’t expect your patients to go from being inactive to running marathons overnight. Set realistic goals that they can achieve, and gradually increase the intensity of their workouts over time.
• Make it a social activity. Exercising with friends or family can make it more enjoyable and help you stay motivated.
• Find an exercise buddy. Having an exercise buddy can help you stay on track and motivated.
• Reward yourself. When you reach a goal, reward yourself with something special. This will help you stay motivated and on track.
Please share in comments if you have noted a personal benefit of exercising on your moods and wellbeing?
What do you experience? How long does that last? How does it feel to you? What adds to your motivation? What barriers have you faced (and maybe overcome)?
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