What makes you happy? A coffee date with your best friend, a movie marathon with your spouse, your child’s smile, a hug from a parent, completing a craft project, submitting a project ahead of deadline…what about exercise?
How can going to the gym – which you seem to hate – make you happy? Let’s find out in the run-up to World Happiness Day, March 20.
Research has routinely linked regular activity with improved health, weight control and a propensity to avoid disease. Exercise can also ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and lead to better sleep.
Christopher Bergland’s The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss state that daily physicality and other lifestyle choices can make us happier. And being happy impacts overall well-being, motivation and productivity.
Exercise doesn’t affect just your body; it sets up a host of chemical reactions in the brain. The release of these chemicals, all known to be powerful mood- and mind-boosting substances, makes you happier.
Do you know them?
The pituitary gland releases endorphins, chemicals that make you feel exhilarated and happy. They trigger a positive feeling, almost like morphine, which is why the euphoric feeling that follows a workout or run is called “runner’s high”. Endorphins also act as analgesics, diminishing feelings of pain, and work as sedatives. However, unlike with morphine, there is no addiction or dependence.
Working out each and every day keeps up your dopamine level. This “pleasure chemical” keeps you going and urges you wordlessly to act on goals, desires and needs. And when you do act, dopamine gives you a shot of reinforcing pleasure. Research has linked low levels of dopamine to weight gain, self-doubt, lack of enthusiasm and procrastination. That’s not all. Studies have shown that increased levels of dopamine – when combined with the core, quads, thighs and pelvic muscle exercises – may give you a “orgasm”!
Regular workouts increase levels of serotonin, a chemical that’s responsible for a healthy appetite, sound sleep and increased happiness. Serotonin, which also leads to greater energy levels and clear thinking, works with endorphins to make working out pleasurable. A lack of this chemical may lead to feelings of depression and loneliness.
Technically was known as epinephrine, adrenaline is the body’s “energy molecule” and takes centre stage in the fight-or-flight mechanism. A rush of epinephrine is exhilarating and leads to a rise in the heart rate and blood pressure. Any situation that pushes you out of comfort zones and maximises human potential – be it through exercise or any other way – leads to a rush of adrenaline.
is an inhibitory molecule that creates a sense of calm and provides peace of mind. That’s why yoga can do the job that Valium and Xanax do – increasing GABA. A study in Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine revealed an increase of 27 percent in GABA levels among those who performed yoga for 60 minutes as compared to those who read for those 60 minutes. Don’t worry if you can’t spare more than half an hour for your daily exercise.
New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds, in her book The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer, writes: “The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in the first 20 minutes of being active.”
So get moving! And remember not to yo-yo workout!