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Do This One Thing With Exercise And You’ll Likely Be A Happier Person

We’ve all heard that exercise can improve our mood and generally increase our level of happiness. This is commonly associated with feel good endorphins that are released by the brain during physical activity.

However, did you know there is one particular thing you can do with your exercise to optimize the effect?

Relatively new research in science has provided us with some clues on what’s really behind exercise and happiness. It appears the connection goes deeper than a “runners high” or feeling of elation associated with vigorous activity.

In today’s post we’ll explore just what exactly this one component is that can make us happier individuals from our exercise. You may be surprised what it is.

More after the jump…

I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m not exercising regularly I’m typically a little more down in the dumps. Life throws us some curve balls now and then and even the most committed exercisers will get derailed on occasion.

Whether it’s something unexpected, illness, injury, a difficult time in your life or what have you, the common denominator is often stress. When stress is increased, happiness generally decreases. There seems to be an inverse relationship here with the two. I think most of us would generally agree with this.

It’s simply hard to feel much joy when you’re tired, not exercising, following a poor diet, etc. So yes on the surface it appears then when we feel better physically we feel better emotionally. Those who try to replace physical activity with something else to mask the pain or feel good for a moment (drugs, alcohol, pleasure foods, etc) tend to find it’s a poor bargain.

The brief period of pleasure or high is almost assured to be accompanied with a subsequent period of feeling down. Interestingly you don’t have to make that trade off when the feeling of pleasure or high has been derived from exercise.

Once again this goes back to feel good hormones, primarily the neurotransmitter dopamine that attaches to receptors in the brain associated with pleasure. Ironically, these are the same receptors that are stimulated with drugs and alcohol, only they work over time to shut down the receptors while exercise keeps them active.

This is why a drug user needs a larger dose to keep getting the same high. Research science has shown that when it comes dopamine and the receptors in the brain, you use it or lose it. Physical activity and exercise it seems is more than something to keep us healthy, it works to keep us happy.

The human body it appears was designed to be active and not sedentary. No surprises there. But getting back to the original statement of this post. What is the one thing you can do specifically with your exercise to fully capitalize on the happiness effect?

The secret ingredient is VARIETY…

That’s right, new research is showing that when exercise and activity is varied, there’s a correlation to increased feelings of joy and happiness.

I stumbled onto this idea from watching the movie “Happy” the other night on Netflix. If you haven’t watched this yet, I highly recommend it. The movie is a documentary recounting what a group of researchers found when they traveled the globe in search of what really makes people truly happy.

No surprises it had little to do with money or material things. Some of the most economically developed nations in the world report the lowest level of happiness from their citizens.

Anyways, check the movie out as I don’t want to give it all away. It’s well worth an hour and fifteen minutes of your time.

Back to the idea of variety with your exercise. What this is referring to is not something as simple as switching up the exercises, sets, and reps with your workouts. Although that is a good idea from a standpoint of physiological adaptation. Yes, switch your workouts up. I’m sure you already knew that.

What the researchers are referring to is a general variety with what you do for physical activity. Going into the gym and doing the same machines or same routine on the treadmill won’t just eventually leave you bored, it’s limiting the enjoyment factor.

Sure you can keep doing your workout routines, but it’s clear that you should also look to throw in some additional activity that’s not routine oriented. Things like…

- Going for a walk on the beach or a nature trail
- Playing a pick-up game of basketball or touch football
- Riding a bicycle outside
- Doing some gardening or other outside work
- Jumping in a yoga class
- Going for a swim
- Playing some tennis or racquetball with a friend
- Joining in with the kids at the playground

You get the idea as the options here are numerous. Just look for things you would enjoy to do in general that involve physical activity. Having  some of these activities be outdoor oriented has even more upside.

And finally, preferably look for some activities you can do with others. This ties into the social engagement component with happiness. We all have the need for some “alone time” and being active by yourself is better than no activity at all. But don’t overlook the fact that we are designed to interact with others. It’s in our wiring per say.

Ok, that about wraps it up. There’s a lot I could get into on this subject, but hopefully you’ve got the big takeaway. Look for the movie “Happy” and give it a watch some night instead of the news or whatever you typically unwind with. You’ll be glad you did.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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