Happiness Series, Part 2: The Exercise-Happiness Connection
Thursday, September 3, 2015
LifeTime WeightLoss in Anika Christ, Effects of Exercise, Exercise, Exercise, Happiness, Mindset

We’ve probably all been there at some point.

We’re crabby and tired. It’s been a less than stellar day. We’re tempted to skip the gym and stay home to nurse our inner grouch instead.

Still, in spite of our bad attitudes, we convince ourselves to go, and the resulting workout remakes our mood - and our evening.

Alternatively, we have to miss our workout one morning because of an early meeting or a sick child, and suddenly by noon we notice an unusual agitation getting the better of us.

It’s all part of the inherent and powerful connection between exercise and mood. 

The Research on Exercise and Mood

We might read or hear our trainers talk about how exercise triggers the release of endorphins - the source of that proverbial runner’s high.

When you start to move your body, your blood pressure goes up, and your heart rate increases. Your brain recognizes this as a kind of physical stress and will often release pain-killing endorphins as well as serotonin and dopamine. These potent chemicals help minimize the discomfort of the exertion, alleviate emotional stress, and leave us feeling energized and elated. 

Research, for example, has demonstrated that a single bout of exercise can enhance our moods for up to twelve hours! Studies also suggest that exercise buffers us from the impact of daily stress in part by enhancing neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) and by influencing gene expression related to the regulation of norepinephrine.

Likewise, exercise can help alleviate more serious psychological conditions like long-term depression and anxiety. For some people with long-term depression, for instance, regular aerobic exercise can be as effective a treatment as popular antidepressant pharmaceuticals and can prevent relapse. 

Tips for Maximizing the Mood Boost of Your Workout

Find an exercise you genuinely enjoy.

If you’re just getting started with exercise, focus on activities that you’ve enjoyed in the past and do things that you like to do. Don’t get caught in a routine of activities that you find boring or “think” you should be doing. Swim if you like to swim. Run if you like to run.  

Change up your scene. 

Most of my clients report enjoying their workouts more when they get a chance to do it outdoors. The fresh air, different smells and landscape scenery allow them to de-stress better and be one with nature. Replace your spin class with a outdoor bike ride on a nice day or add a walk around the park during your lunch break. The fresh air and natural setting are surely to elevate your state of mind! 

Find a buddy – or several. 

For most of us, having a buddy or two during our workouts serves as a great social (and motivational) experience! Bring your best friend to yoga with you. Play on your office’s co-ed softball team. Maybe join a local running club. They’re among the many ways you can incorporate some social time into your exercise, which can boost your overall mood and enhance your enjoyment of your fitness commitment.


Structured exercise such as cardio and strength training routines are important, but don’t forget to just play once in awhile! It could include playing catch with your kids, going on a leisurely bike ride or maybe just enjoying a round of “HORSE” with the basketball. You likely associate “play” activities with childhood memories, but don’t diminish the impact they can have on your adult self. When we play, we lose ourselves in the flow (and fun) of the moment rather than focus on our heart rate or calories burned. 

Keep it regular. 

Although a single workout can give us a mood boost, the biggest benefits come with frequency. Create a weekly plan for exercise that you can both achieve and enjoy, and then stick to it! As an added bonus, when you have a sense of accomplishment, you benefit neurochemically. Tracking your workouts or logging them into myPlan can also help you “check the box,” so to speak, and give yourself that instant feedback and gratification. 

Whether it’s going for bust with a happiness protocol or just our regular routine, the fact is our bodies and brains benefit from our fitness commitment. Although we might not always appreciate the psychological benefits our workouts offer us, recognizing them gives us more incentive to fit in our regular fitness time.  

Would you like additional information or guidance for using exercise to support mental health? Talk with one of our fitness professionals or weight loss coaches today. Thanks for reading.

In health, Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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