I know a surefire way to up your happiness game: exercise! I’m no scientist or behaviorist or any combination of the two. But, I can vouch for what scores of scientific research has shown: exercise makes me a happier person. I don’t even care about dopamine or endorphins. I’ve heard of them, of course. In theory, I’m super grateful for them, but what I care about more is the effect that a consistent workout has on my mental well-being.
I am a happier mom, friend, and human being on the days when I take a little time to get my heart going and my muscles moving. I actually don’t need science to back me up on this: I just know from experience that working out makes me feel good.
And, for those of us who have figured out that exercise needs to somehow fit into our busy days, we also know the other people in our lives benefit, too.
So, why does exercise make me happy? Glad you asked.
Working out is like organized play for adults.
Exercise is fun. Yep, it is true. I’ve found the types of exercise that I find most fun. There are a million possibilities and all it takes is a willingness to hunt down what is fun for you.
Mostly, I think part of the reason exercise is fun is because it is like organized play.
When I had young kids I spent many afternoons at the park. My daughters would run, jump, skip, dig, and climb with joy written on their faces.
It’s no wonder then that when I get to run or walk with a friend and talk our hearts out or take a boot camp class and jump and sprint and pick up heavy things, it is all play. I get to engage in the best parts of childhood for one whole hour. The smiles on our faces are a dead giveaway.
Related: 8 Things I Learned in Group Fitness
Exercise is SATISFYING.
Just think about the wonder of our bodies: our heart, our lungs, and our muscles. I love seeing what I can do. I believe that our bodies were meant to move. Not everyone was meant to run a marathon or to bench press 100 lbs., but if we have two arms, two legs, and a heart, we should probably use them.
I’ve learned that when my muscles are just a little bit tired and my cardiovascular system gets to do its thing, it feels good just like when I get to use my intellect to solve a problem or create something. We were meant to use our whole selves: body, mind and soul.
I love the sense of ACCOMPLISHMENT I get from working out.
I couldn’t do a push-up at all a few years ago. I couldn’t hold a plank. There were actually (and still are) lots of things I cannot do, but I see progress! Anyone can see progress in only a few weeks when you just show up every day and just try. That’s all, that easy, just keep trying and you see results.
Plus, let’s be honest, it feels awesome to have a workout checked off the list each day. So, if your muscles aren’t too sore, go ahead and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Finally, and most important to me, I feel so much CALMER about personal challenges when I exercise.
There are some things I have no control over in my life. Even just the daily challenges of living, can exhaust and deplete me. For whatever reason though, exercise helps me relax about the things I have no control over.
For instance, I call running my moving meditation. My mind calms down, and I can think, pray, or even just listen when I am putting one foot in front of the other. Even with a great spin or HIIT class, concentrating on getting through the class helps me feel like I can get through just about anything. Of course yoga is also a no-brainer when it comes to calming me down. Plus, hanging out with other happy people during a group fitness class is a huge encouragement.
It seems like when I do something that is physically tough, I get the boost I need to face anything mentally tough. Exercise won’t be the hardest thing you do in a day (even if it is a challenge), yet it helps me feel like I can face anything.
These are all the things I remember when I get up early in the morning and fill my water bottle and get on my shoes to head to the gym or hit the road.
I don’t need a scientific study to tell me what I already know. I want to be my best, feel my best and give the people in my life a woman who feels good about her accomplishments and who is ready to face challenges. Thinking about all the ways that exercise makes me happy is one of the things that keeps me coming back for more.
Give it a try. Start with achievable goals—even a little bit of exercise helps. See how it makes you feel and then keep going. Find things you enjoy to do and people you enjoy being with. Do your own non-scientific experiment and reap the happy results from exercise.