It shouldn’t be surprising news at this point, but for the non-believers, we’ll say it again, regular exercise does make you happier. The same rush of endorphins (good feelings) you get when eating and having sex is experienced when you workout. It may be hard to believe but we promise it’s true. Working out is proven to put you in a great mood.
Exercising regularly releases tension, and dealing with stress on a chemical level instead of letting it (cortisol the stress hormone) accumulate in your body will prevent depression and anxiety. It’s proven that within 4-weeks depression will begin to lessen its grip.
The Chemicals Released When You Exercise That Make You Happier
Did you ever hear someone talk about how they loved running or mention a runner's high? Actually, the fabled runners high is very real, and it contributes to making running enjoyable. Researchers believe this is because when you exercise, your body produces these molecules called endocannabinoids that cause the runner’s high. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a cell-signaling system and when its molecules are released it mimics a reaction slightly similar to taking cannabinoids from cannabis. (Cannabinoids from cannabis like THC will bind to both ECS receptors found naturally in our body and that’s why the effect of THC is so intense.)
In spite of the fact that a lot of its functions are unknown, it is generally thought that the ECS functions in keeping the body in a state of homeostasis. For example, when you go for a long uncomfortable run, different ECS receptors might send signals to the brain for endocannabinoids to be released so that the body can return to homeostasis (i.e., the runner’s high?)
It’s proven that within 4-weeks depression will begin to lessen its grip.
Dopamine & Serotonin
Both of these terms are used together so frequently you’d think they’re interchangeable but they’re not, both of these neurotransmitters have unique functions.
- Increased Feelings of Happiness
- Feeling More Focused
- A Sense of Calm
- Triggers the feeling of being rewarded
- Increases Motivation
- Enhances Productivity
Interestingly enough, serotonin suppresses appetite, and any dramatic decreases in dopamine trigger hunger cravings. Studies have shown that “people who have low serotonin may also experience eating disorders or appetite issues.” Essentially in order to be a functioning and content human being then you need your dopamine and serotonin levels to be at optimal levels.
What we love about exercise is that it triggers both of these neurotransmitters to jump into action. “You wake up your reward centers when you exercise - the brain's system that makes you perceive pleasure, motivation, and hope,” explains an article in Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine. This is similar to what sugar addiction does to you, but exercise has actual benefits. Health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal writes in the magazine, “regular exercise transforms the reward system over time, resulting in more dopamine receptors and higher levels of dopamine in circulation.”
Also, exercise boosts serotonin synthesis and release, although the exact science is a mouthful to explain— I’ll try.
Basically, exercising causes the body to produce something called tryptophan, it does this by inducing the body to create more serum nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA). Tryptophan production comes before serotonin synthesis, so it doesn't take long once its levels are raised to begin to feel the effects of the increase in serotonin (i.e., a sense of calm, happiness, and focus.)
This also explains when you go to the gym, you may not be all that excited, but halfway through you might find yourself really getting into it.
Another exciting aspect of exercising is that the increased serotonin levels will continue to benefit you even after the cool down. Overall, exercise makes you happier and that's a scientific fact. And as much as you want to argue you don't like it, there are three chemicals your body makes that, over time, will make exercising more bearable, and even enjoyable.