Exercise is widely known for its numerous physical benefits, including weight loss, muscle gain, and overall health improvement. However, the connection between exercise and mental health is also significant.
This article explores the mechanisms behind exercising for happiness and its effects on mental health, backed by medical research and expert sources.
We will also discuss the importance of physical activity and the consequences of its absence on our bodies, mental health, and productivity.
ENDORPHINS AND EXERCISE: THE FEEL-GOOD CONNECTION
It’s a common belief that exercise releases endorphins, which make us feel good. Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body that can reduce pain and increase pleasure. During exercise, our body releases endorphins that can create a sense of euphoria and well-being (1).
A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that people who exercised regularly had lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who did not exercise (2). Moreover, exercise has been found to be just as effective as medication in treating depression in some cases (3). However, endorphins are not the only chemicals involved in the exercise-happiness connection. Exercise also increases the production of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters associated with happiness and well-being (4).
INCREASING MENTAL STRENGTH THROUGH EXERCISE
Exercise can improve mental strength by challenging us physically and mentally, which helps build resilience and cope with stress. A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that regular exercise can improve cognitive function, including memory, attention, and processing speed (5). These improvements can result in increased discipline, accountability, and overall productivity.
To increase mental strength through exercise, it is important to challenge ourselves. This can mean trying a new activity or pushing ourselves harder in our current exercise routine. It is also important to have a consistent exercise routine, as regular exercise has been found to have the most significant impact on mental health (6).
BENEFITS OF OUTDOOR EXERCISE
Outdoor exercise has unique benefits in comparison to indoor workouts. Being in nature has been found to reduce stress and improve overall well-being (7). Studies have shown that spending time in nature can lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress (8). It can also improve our mood and boost our immune system (9).
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that people who exercised outdoors reported greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy, and positive engagement than those who exercised indoors (10). Outdoor exercise also allows us to connect with our environment, further enhancing the psychological benefits.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF INACTIVITY
The lack of physical activity in today’s increasingly sedentary society is causing significant bodily changes and mental health issues, leading to decreased productivity, discipline, and accountability. Physical inactivity has been linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes (11). Moreover, a sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression, hinder cognitive function, and decrease self-esteem and motivation (12).
In summary, exercising for happiness has many benefits, including improving mental health, increasing mental strength, reducing stress and managing hormone imbalances. While endorphins play a role in creating a sense of well-being, other chemicals like serotonin and dopamine also contribute to the exercise-happiness connection. Outdoor exercise offers additional benefits, including stress reduction and improved overall well-being. By incorporating regular physical activity and outdoor exercises into our daily lives, we can foster a healthier, happier, and more productive society.
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- Boecker, H., Sprenger, T., Spilker, M. E., Henriksen, G., Koppenhoefer, M., Wagner, K. J., … & Tolle, T. R. (2008. The runner’s high: Opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Cerebral Cortex, 18(11), 2523-2531.
- Kvam, S., Kleppe, C. L., Nordhus, I. H., & Hovland, A. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42-51.
- Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Doraiswamy, P. M., Watkins, L., Hoffman, B. M., Barbour, K. A., … & Sherwood, A. (2007). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69(7), 587-596.
- Meeusen, R., & De Meirleir, K. (1995). Exercise and brain neurotransmission. Sports Medicine, 20(3), 160-188.
- Chang, Y. K., Labban, J. D., Gapin, J. I., & Etnier, J. L. (2012). The effects of acute exercise on cognitive performance: A meta-analysis. Brain Research, 1453, 87-101.
- Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104-111.
- Bowler, D. E., Buyung-Ali, L. M., Knight, T. M., & Pullin, A. S. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health, 10(1), 456.
- Olafsdottir, G., Cloke, P., & Schulz, A. (2020). Health benefits of walking in nature: A randomized controlled study under conditions of real-life stress. Environment and Behavior, 52(3), 248-274.
- Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 9-17.
- Thompson Coon, J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J., & Depledge, M. H. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 21(2), 110-122.
- Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174(6), 801-809.
- Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.