Have you ever experienced the elated feeling of finishing a workout? There’s nothing like a jog in the open fresh air or a great spin class to get those happy feelings flowing. Thoughts often become more clear and problems that have been plaguing you might magically clarify with a solution. You might even feel on top of the world, like you can accomplish anything.
But why is that? Can exercising really make you happier? Well, yes. And, there are several reasons why this is true.
First and foremost, as you exercise and become physically stronger your confidence grows. This type of movement creates a sense of empowerment and optimism. When you feel stronger, you certainly feel more capable. As humans, we're trained to be prepared for circumstances that might put us at risk. We feel innately more prepared to kick into fight-or-flight mode when we're physically active and strong.
Secondly, some physiological changes take place when you're physically active. Not only does exercise increase endorphins, but a load of brain chemicals (known as hormones) are released such as dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoids. These important chemicals are associated with feeling happy, confident and capable. They are even thought to contribute to reducing anxiety, stress and physical pain.
Interestingly, nerve cell growth in the brain increases when you exercise! Thanks to tiny little proteins known as myokines which are released during muscular contractions, your brain becomes better prepared to handle stress and manage depression and anxiety.
And, just one more very cool benefit of outdoor exercise specifically is related to meditation. We're sure you have heard of the merits of meditation, but does it sometimes feel hard to fit it all in? Healthy eating, exercise, work, family and work responsibilities can all start to add up. The good news? Evidence suggests that the payoff of outdoor exercise is very similar to the positive benefits of meditation. Even a simple walk or bike ride outside can be enough to simulate the zen of meditation.
The physical benefits of exercise are clear, but the emotional and mental payoff is just as important. The take-home message? Taking time to exercise is worth it! The great news is, even simple efforts go a long way. Starting with something as simple as a walk or short hike can work wonders. What's your favorite way to exercise?