Be happy: How exercise boosts your mood in minutes
May 30, 2022

Be happy: How exercise boosts your mood in minutes

Rachel Wadsley, PhD

Physical activity has immediate and long-term impacts on your happiness and health. The University of Vermont found that 20 minutes of exercise can keep you upbeat for up to 12 hours! Other studies show positive changes from even shorter sessions of movement. Now that's what I call a win-win (health and happiness). 

The primary thing exercise does is release endorphins or the feel-good hormone. If you've ever heard of the runner's high, this hormone is responsible. But the good news is you don't need to pound the pavement for miles to get endorphins flowing.

In this article, we’ll look at exercise's emotional and health benefits, the best kinds of physical activity to do, and how to squeeze exercise into your day (even if you don't like it). 

5 Ways exercise improves happiness

Reduces anxiety and depression

Movement makes the body release serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Serotonin and norepinephrine help reduce depression and anxiety. Doctors and mental health care providers regularly suggest exercise for individuals with mood disorders.

Dopamine is part of the body's reward system. This is why social media is so enticing. You get a dopamine hit when you see likes and views. Swap out the screen dopamine hit for regular exercise!

Reduces stress

So many of us are chronically stressed from life's demands and events around us. High stress levels lead to prolonged elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which can significantly hurt our overall health and increase the risk of chronic health conditions like heart diseases. 

Exercise decreases cortisol and adrenaline levels in your body. Knocking down levels of these hormones helps you keep a level head and positive mood. So the next time you feel stressed, move your body. 

Boosts confidence

Who doesn't enjoy feeling confident? Exercise helps with confidence on a couple of levels. First, you’re able to see what your body is capable of. You can try new activities, get stronger, and feel a sense of accomplishment. Think about using a tracking app to check off your movement habits. It feels good to see those checkmarks!

The second confidence boost comes from feeling empowered and developing a more positive mindset about your body. Your inner critic gets quieter because you know you can successfully take on new challenges. Virtual fist bump headed your way! 

Promotes social bonding

As social creatures, most people are happier when they can spend time near others. You'll often see groups of people connect with a shared passion for some type of exercise like walking groups or in fitness classes. These social groups become a form of support and accountability. 

Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Joy of Movement, says exercise causes changes in the brain itself. When your mood is elevated, engaging with other people is easier, and this social interaction is more pleasurable when you're in a good mood.

Improves quality of life

Your body will thank you for getting in regular movement. Below are some of the physical benefits of exercise:

  • Reduces risk for chronic health conditions (like heart disease)
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens bones
  • Improves flexibility
  • It helps maintain your ideal healthy weight
  • Reduces pain
  • Improves sleep

What kinds of exercises are the best to boost your mood?

A single exercise session (as simple as walking) is enough to create a response in the body and brain. The most common forms of exercise to promote happiness include aerobic exercise, walking, and yoga.

Increasing your heart rate with a moderate activity level or intense exercise routine will create a stronger and longer-lasting feeling of euphoria. In comparison, gentle activities like yoga or tai chi lead to more peace of mind and relaxation. 

How to fit exercise into your day

Life gets busy! Finding time for ourselves can feel impossible. Below are some tips and tricks to get in more physical activity. If you'd like more support, check out our article 10 Ways to Fit Exercise Into Your Schedule Even When You Don't Have Time.

  • Do micro workouts: Keep them short and sweet (even 5 minutes long).
  • Make it convenient: Have what you need ready or do bodyweight exercises that don't require a gym or equipment.
  • Assess screen time: Swap some social media dopamine hits for movement.
  • Do something you like: Dance, hike, play with your kids or take a class.
  • Get the family involved: Have a movement-based date night or go on a family walk (or dance party). 
  • Walk during phone calls: Take advantage of the time you would typically be sitting. The time flies by.

Wrap up

The bottom line is any form or amount of exercise is going to lead to feelings of happiness. Bust out of an afternoon funk by doing some physical activity, such as taking a couple of laps around the office or dancing to a song. Make exercise fun and not a chore. The more regularly you exercise, the more benefits you'll see long-term. 

If you're ready to brighten your outlook on life and boost your health, check out trainwell (formerly CoPilot). We have a one-size-fits-one model because your health journey must match your life and needs! Trainwell habit trainers help create a custom plan around movement, nutrition, and self-care. Best of all, you can get two weeks for free. 

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Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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