It's not always easy to see, but exercise goes way beyond endorphins, losing weight, and looking good. It’s about creating the one thing that almost everyone in this world is after, a happy life. Here’s how exercise can help your pursuit.
Let's start with the obvious: exercise is essential to good health; this likely isn’t news to you, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that health is essential to happiness. Remember, a daily workout routine can help to prevent cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, depression and many other diseases.
Stress leads us to feel grouchy, frazzled, and even tired, but it definitely doesn’t make us happy. Of course, everyone has to deal with stress, but exercise can help to lessen its effects. Plus, it contributes to poor health. Chronic stress is associated with conditions like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, headaches, back and neck pain, and sleep problems.
A 2009 study from the University of Florida published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that exercising may help us feel better about our bodies, regardless of whether or not we accomplish appearance-based goals like losing fat or building muscle. “Body dissatisfaction is a huge problem in our society and is related to all sorts of negative behavior including yo-yo dieting, smoking, taking steroids and undergoing cosmetic surgery,” the study’s author, Heather Hausenblas, said in a UF news release.
Exercise is empowering. It makes you feel strong, both inside and out. Laura Williams, founder of Girls Gone Sporty and an ACSM-HFS certified fitness professional, says these factors—everything from improving your athletic performance and building muscle to losing fat and feeling more energetic—work together to boost your confidence both inside and outside of the gym.
A 2006 study published in Psychological Bulletin found that a regular exercise routine can help increase energy levels and eliminate feelings of fatigue. Not only does this mean that exercising can help you generally feel better on a daily basis, but you’ll also have more energy to do the things that make you happy.
In addition to reducing stress, exercise may also improve our ability to deal with it. Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, a 2011 study involving mice found that regular exercise was associated with activity in areas of the brain that deal with emotional processing. Dr. Michael L. Lehmann, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times that he believed it was exercise that improved the animals ability to better deal with the unpleasant situations they had been subjected to.
Many of the mental health benefits associated with exercise help to keep your mind clear and calm. This combined with the benefit of increased energy levels and alertness can help to make you more productive. And with so much of our time spent working, it’s not hard to argue that what goes on in the office (or wherever your job might take place) definitely has an effect on our overall level of happiness.
Almost everyone can agree, there's nothing like waking up feeling relaxed and refreshed after a good night's sleep. What's more, many studies have revealed that poor sleep habits can take a large toll on your health. Continually missing out on quality sleep is associated with weight gain and obesity as well as chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Although certain factors like what time of day and what type of exercise are still up for debate, much of the recent research regarding exercise in relation to sleep has found that a regular exercise routine can improve sleep quality and make falling asleep easier, too.
Keeping up with a regular exercise routine allows you to create goals to work towards. Accomplishing those goals, or even failing and having to start over, can elicit feelings of determination and pride, and in turn, create a greater sense of fulfillment in your life.
No doubt, feeling young and lively is a key factor when it comes to happiness. In addition to keeping your body healthy and nimble, it’s believed that exercise also has the ability to keep your mind sharp. A recent study published in The Journal of Physiology, which examined a group of cyclists, age 55 to 79, supported that physical activity likely helps the body to perform—both mentally and physically—more like a young person’s.