I recently read about a study showing that exercise makes you happier than money. It makes sense. Exercise involves your spirit, mind and body working together. It’s about you at a basic, natural level. Money is more externalized. It’s about things and status and your place in a material world. You exist in a body, not a bank.
As I looked further into the link between being fit and being happy, I found interesting ways exercise promotes happiness.
Elevates mood. As we age, our dopamine levels naturally decrease. Physical exercise releases dopamine into our brains, which makes us happier. Being fit also makes us feel more confident and engaged with life—ways of thinking that keep us in a consistently better mood.
Raises energy levels.This is really counterintuitive. How can working hard in the gym for an hour create more energy for the rest of the day? Like an energy drink, exercise works as a spark that gets everything going in the morning. It also works psychologically and physiologically to make better functioning minds and bodies around the clock.
Decreases Stress.Modern lives have plenty of mental stress and little of the physical exertion necessary to dissipate the built up hormones and other chemicals associated with stress. We have a natural awareness, often called “fight or flight,” that keeps us on edge. We need exercise to help us burn off the excess chemicals, to make us tired, and to keep us connected—mind and body.
Builds mental toughness. Every time you force yourself to go to the gym, lift that last painful set, or say no to bad food, you are building up your mental toughness. Resilience, the ability to face and overcome life’s challenges, means using your spirit to command your mind and body. Exercise not only builds up your body, it builds up your perseverance and character.
Boosts immune system.Some doctors advise exercise to combat everything from an oncoming cold to heart disease and cancer. When we exercise, our body works to prevent illness in complicated ways that include flushing out impurities, creating less hospitable environments for bacteria, and limiting the production corrosive stress chemicals. The body is an intricate system, with exercise being an essential engine to health.
Improves sleep.When we exercise, we sleep better. Part of the reason is because we’re tired. Other reasons include resetting our sleep cycle, flushing stress-related hormones, and internal temperature regulation. How much, when and what type of exercise affects sleep varies between people.
photo by Gemma Chua-Tran