We all know that exercise is good for our physical health. It keeps some things low (blood pressure, weight, and risk of diabetes) and other things high (muscular strength and bone density). While your body benefits from exercise, some of the biggest advantages of getting active are for your brain. But why does exercise make you happy?
To find the answers, we turn to science and the latest research on how exercise can not only make you healthier but happier too. Read on to learn more about the relationship between the two.
Why Does Exercise Make You Happy?
So what is it about being active that boosts your mood? And why does exercise make you happy? Below we explore seven science-backed reasons breaking a sweat can bring you joy.
1. Psychological well-being and exercise create a positive cycle
According to research, the association between exercise and psychological well-being goes both ways. Exercising can make you happier, and it also turns out that happier people exercise more. Which, you guessed it, can raise your psychological well-being even further.
To keep the positive spiral going, people who have higher levels of psychological well-being are also more likely to continue exercising than those with lower levels. Translation: Being active is great for your long-term happiness.
And both exercise and happiness can help you stay physically healthy. From helping you sleep better to boosting your immune system, happiness has been found to lead to a wide range of health benefits.
2. Exercise lowers your risk of depression
The benefits of exercise go way further than just feeling good in the moment. They can actually reduce your longer-term risk of developing depression, according to extensive research.
This effect has been found for children, adults, and the elderly, across the world, for both depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder. And anyone who’s struggled with depression can tell you that it’s debilitating. So take the time to exercise, and reduce your depression risk, by moving more.
Your mental health might depend on it.
3. Exercise can even help treat depression
Hopefully, you can stave off depression with physical activity, but if you do happen to develop it, exercise can still help.
A meta-analysis of randomized control trials studying the effects of exercise on depression found a large and significant effect. That means that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression (combined with other treatments when necessary).
Wondering what kind of exercise is best? The analysis above found that aerobic exercise takes the cake. I.e., cardio. And how hard do you have to go? Both moderate and vigorous intensity can help major depressive disorder, but moderate intensity may be more effective.
And get the pros involved. The study found that exercise supervised by professionals — like group classes or personal training — may have stronger effects than exercising on your own.
4. Any type of exercise can make you happier
You might think that only certain types of exercise can make you happier. But no need to take up yoga if you’re not a fan, or work out for hours if you’re really more of a HIIT person. Why? Because it all works, says science.
Research suggests that both aerobic exercise and exercises focused on stretching and balance can help improve your happiness. And that is some good news. Finding the exercise you love most is one of the keys to building a fitness habit, which will only make you happier in the long run. No pun intended (unless running is your thing).
5. Exercising outdoors can bring a double dose of happiness
Even though any sort of exercise can make you happier, there’s evidence that exercising outdoors can have an even greater positive effect on your mental well-being.
Makes sense right? If being outdoors and exercising can both boost your mood, then putting them together can only increase your happiness.
And there’s even better news. Research suggests that people may see exercise as easier when they do it outdoors, which can help keep you motivated. And like the aforementioned research has shown, this will only help you stay happier and healthier. That’s a triple win.
6. Exercise improves your well-being at work
We know that not everyone can take a break to exercise in the middle of the workday. But if you can make the time, exercising during work can make you happier. The bonus here is that these positive mood changes have been linked to better performance at work on the days you exercise.
You don’t need a company gym or a full sweat session to get the benefits, as the research found that exercise specifics didn’t make a difference in the effect on mood and performance.
Tight on time? Try power-walking to your favorite lunch spot. Or use the time to bond with your coworkers by rallying a group for a mid-afternoon stroll.
7. A little exercise goes a long way toward happiness
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults do at least two and a half hours to five hours of moderately intense physical activity per week, or one hour and 15 minutes to two and a half hours of vigorous activity. We won’t argue that those numbers are best for your physical health. But we can tell you that even just 10 minutes of exercise per week or exercising one day per week can boost your happiness.
So don’t sweat it if you can’t sweat as much as you want to. Get exercise when you can, in whatever form you can, and know that it can still add up to happiness.
To sum it all up…
So why does exercise make you happy? It’s about boosting your physical and emotional well-being, staving off depression, keeping your mental health in tip-top shape, and making it work in whatever way you like and whatever way you can.
In other words, just get out there and get moving. Walk, run, dance, swim, bike, climb, hike, ride, or play. Whatever it is, you’ll elevate your mood in addition to your health. And we can’t think of a better reason.
Your turn: Why does exercise make you happy? Tell us how getting moving affects your mood and your favorite way to get out there in the comments.
Looking for a quick workout you can do at home? Try our fast and festive HIIT routine.
Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.