Research has long shown links between exercise and happiness, whether they be from improved health, enhanced stamina, a rush of endorphins, or simple self-esteem.
In times of stress, burn-out, or even sadness, it makes sense to turn to exercise for the positive physical and emotional outcomes. In other words, stay calm and keep moving!
Studies show fit people tend to be healthier and happier overall, but there are a number of different potential causes for the resulting good feelings exercise can bring. Knowing what’s happening inside your body and at the cellular level can give you some great motivation for dealing with everyday challenges to your mood and peace of mind.
Most of us have heard of “runners high,” the feeling of euphoria that can happen during a good, long run. It’s thought to be caused by chemical release of endorphins, a natural painkiller and energy booster that acts a bit like a medical opiate such as morphine.
When you’re fighting the blues or feeling stuck, a cardio workout that pushes you might be able to provide relief from what’s bothering you, inside and out. It’s been shown that the level of workout challenge matters—make it hard but don’t go too hard. The “high” comes best as a response to discomfort, but not to sheer exhaustion or excruciating pain.
More recent research indicates that as the beating of your heart and blood pressure increases, it stimulates a “fight or flight” response in your brain. That kicks the nervous system into gear with a reaction called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor]. This reaction is a protective and restorative one. It is thought to affect memory at the cellular level, virtually “resetting” your body and mind.
Maybe you’ve noticed that regular exercise around a consistent habit helps keep your mood elevated and your anxiety or frustrations at bay. This may be due to the lingering effects of BDNF, almost like flipping a switch, so you feel clear headed, more at ease and better able to cope again.
Making sure that you have enough intensity in your workouts to really get your blood pumping and your heart rate up is the best way to take advantage of this effect. With all the stressors of modern life, discouraging stories on the news and competitive business environments we’re dealing with these days, hitting the gym and staying dedicated to our fitness is truly a gift we give to ourselves.