Hack Your Brain with Exercise
Want to smile big? Get in a workout
Every gym-goer knows and loves that post-workout feeling: You feel strong, confident, and energetic. You feel accomplished and ready to tackle your other responsibilities. You feel happy.
That post-workout feeling is a big reason why so many people can’t quit exercise. They first chase the physical health benefits, such as boosted immunity and stronger muscles, and wind up staying for the mental health benefits. (We all know someone who gets cranky when they miss too many workouts).
Turns out, the connection between exercise and happiness has been well studied by scientists. Here are six ways a workout can make you happier.
Exercise actually changes your brain
Your mind gets a workout while your body does.
While you’re working out your body, you’re working out your brain, too. Exercise increases something called “brain plasticity,” which is your brain’s ability to make new connections or rewire old ones.
In animals, exercise even creates new brain cells. While more research is needed to confirm those effects in humans, it wouldn’t be surprising to see future studies replicate these results in people, since exercise creates the perfect environment for your brain to grow: During exercise, your heart pumps more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your brain and promotes the production of important hormones.
Exercise boosts endorphins
The storied and coveted runner’s high is real. Exercise seems to have an effect on your “happy hormones” serotonin and dopamine, as well as the opioid receptors in your brain. In other words, exercise acts like a drug. Just one workout may boost something called endocannabinoids, chemical compounds (yes, like those found in CBD) that can improve your mood.
Exercise relieves stress, anxiety, and depression
Working out can bring a smile to your face.
If you’re feeling stressed or sad, try hitting the gym. Exercise is considered an effective therapy for mild depression, stress, and anxiety, likely because of all the mood-boosting properties described above. Just a little exercise can help a lot if you’re experiencing low moods.
Exercise can help you sleep
We all know tonight’s sleep is critical for tomorrow’s happiness. Working out may improve your sleep quality and duration (read: better sleep for more hours), which is reason enough for any restless sleeper to jump on the exercise train. Even patients with insomnia have reported better sleep after exercising.
Exercise improves focus and productivity
Exercise helps you focus.
Who isn’t happier when they feel accomplished? Studies show that exercise can improve your attention span and improve “cognitive flexibility,” or your ability to switch from task to task while retaining strong focus. High-intensity exercise in particular has been linked to quicker information processing times—get in your workout and then fly through that to-do list.
Exercise can boost your energy levels
Everyone’s happier when they’re energetic. Here’s some good news: Exercise may reduce feelings of fatigue by up to 65 percent.
To wrap up, exercise can make you happier by enhancing your sleep, relieving stress and anxiety, increasing your energy and productivity levels, giving you an endorphin high, and literally changing your brain for the better. Not convinced? Try it for yourself at a World Gym near you.