In many health fitness programs, exercise is considered a key part of improving physical health. From improvements to cardiovascular health that allow people who exercise to work longer and reduce their risk for serious heart disease, to strength training that tones muscles and burns fat, exercise is a proven means of improving physical health and fitness.
However, there are more benefits to keeping up a regular exercise routine than simple (albeit very important) physical health perks. Exercise also has numerous mental health and wellbeing benefits to go along with the physical health perks, such as improved confidence, focus, and mood.
This brings us to this post’s main question as posed by the title: “does exercise make you happier?” In short, the answer is yes, exercise can elevate your mood and promote feelings of wellness or even euphoria. Yet, there is more to this answer than that, as there are a lot of specific mental health benefits to exercise. Some of these benefits are considered short term, while others are long-term.
Short-Term Mental Benefits of Exercise
Many people who work out report having an elevated mood shortly after completing an exercise regimen. This is typically because of the effect of endorphins, chemicals released by the body in response to specific stimuli, such as the “stress” from exercise.
When you exercise, you are putting a controlled amount of strain on your body’s system. The body interprets this strain as stress, and naturally releases chemicals to counteract this stress to prevent harm. The rush of endorphins you get from exercise can cause temporary feelings of euphoria as the endorphins released during exercise attach to the opioid receptors in your brain.
Another shorter-term mental health benefit of exercise is a reduction of anxiety following the completion of an exercise routine. Once again, the release of endorphins after the completion of a workout are responsible for this boost. In fact, according to research featured on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website (NCBI), “exercise compares favorably to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression.” While not a cure of severe depression, the feelings of mental wellbeing following exercise have been known to lessen the severity of depression.
With regular exercise comes an increased capacity for physical activity. However, this doesn’t apply only to physical activity. Research shows that workers who exercise regularly frequently out-produce coworkers who don’t work out as often. The chemicals released during exercise can also boost creativity, making post-exercise creative work more inventive.
Long-Term Mental Benefits of Exercise
While the endorphin rush following any one specific exercise routine may be short-lived, the overall mental health benefits of repeated exercise can be much longer-lived than that.
Examples of the long-term benefits of exercise include:
Improved Self-Confidence. Even after the euphoria of the endorphin rush is gone, the benefits to your self-image go on. After repeated exercise sessions (paired with a responsible diet/meal plan), you’ll be losing fat, gaining lean mass, feeling more energetic and positive about yourself. In short, as you get into physical shape, you’ll be more confident in and satisfied with your self-image. This is a large part of the reason why exercise is helpful to those who suffer from anxiety or depression.
Improved Cognitive Function. In another study found on the NCBI website, it was discovered that physical activity could “improve cognitive function in humans… possibly via a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-regulated mechanism.” Scientific studies suggest that BDNF helps improve decision making, information retention, and brain function. Even better, some research suggests that working out may slow or prevent the degeneration of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped organ in the brain that plays an important role in the formation of new memories. This, in turn, could help alleviate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (unfortunately, there still is no cure for this condition).
These benefits are in addition to those of overall improved health, strength, and respiratory function that come with exercise.
Getting the Most out of Exercise
While the short-term mental health benefits of exercise that are tied to the release of endorphins might not need repeated exercise to be experienced, gaining some of the longer-term benefits will take some more dedication. Or, maybe, just the occasional reminder.
For many people, one of the biggest challenges in getting the right amount of physical activity and gaining the physical and mental health benefits that come with exercise is that life can seem to just get in the way. It’s so easy to get tied up in doing one thing after another until you realize that the whole day has gone by before you find the time for even a quick workout. Thankfully, there’s a way to keep yourself appraised of your progress towards your exercise goals: a Fitbit activity tracker.
What is Fitbit?
Fitbit is a device that tracks your activity throughout the day, reading how many steps you’ve taken and helping you track your daily calorie burn and intake. With the ability to wirelessly sync to your smartphone or other mobile devices, tracking your progress towards your fitness goals is as easy as loading the app and checking the screen.
Different models of the Fitbit device can also track your sleep, giving you an idea of how restfully you’re sleeping each night! Models of the Fitbit that sync with your mobile devices can be programmed to give you reminders throughout the day of when you wanted to take 5-15 minutes out of your day to get in some physical activity.
With a Fitbit device, you can make sure that you get the little extra nudge you may need to meet your fitness goals and so you’ll be able to enjoy both the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise. Get started with a Fitbit from Step Ahead Wellness today!