Exercise has been touted to be a cure for nearly everything in life, from depression, to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and more. But now you can have specific and scientific knowledge about what exercise really does to our bodies and our brains!
What triggers happiness in our brain when we exercise?
If you start exercising, your brain recognizes this as a moment of stress. As your heart pressure increases, the brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect yourself and your brain from stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor).
BDNF protects and repairs your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why we often feel so at ease and things are clear after exercising and eventually happy.
At the same time, endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, are released in your brain. Your endorphins main purpose is this writes researcher McGovern:
These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.
Overall, there is a lot going on inside our brain and it is in fact oftentimes a lot more active than when we are just sitting down or actually concentrating mentally:
So, BDNF and endorphins are the reasons exercise makes us feel so good. The somewhat scary part is that they have a very similar and addictive behavior like morphine, heroine or nicotine. The only difference? Well, they are actually good for us.
The key to maximize happiness through exercise: don’t do more, but focus on when.
To get the highest level of happiness and benefits for health, the key is not to become a professional athlete. On the contrary, a much smaller amount is needed to reach the level where happiness and productivity in every day life peaks:
The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.” – Gretchen Reynolds
So really, you can relax and don’t have to be on the look-out for the next killer work-out. All you have to do is get some focused 20 minutes in to get the full happiness boost every day.
Three Easy Steps to Get Started
1. Put your gym clothes right over your alarm clock or phone when you go to bed.
This technique sounds rather simple, but has been one of the most powerful ones. If you put everything the way you want it for the gym before you go to sleep and put your alarm under your gym clothes, you will have a much easier time to convince yourself to put your gym clothes on.
2. Track your exercises and log them at the same time after every exercise
When you try to exercise regularly, the key is to make it a habit. One way to achieve this is to create a so called “reward,” that will remind you of the good feelings you get from exercising. Try out Fitocracy or RunKeeper to log your work-outs.
3. Think about starting small and then start even smaller
Here is a little secret. When I first started exercising, I did it with five minutes per day, three times a week. Can you imagine that? Five minutes of timed exercise, three times a week? That’s nothing, you might be thinking. And you are right, because the task is so easy and anyone can succeed with it, you can really start to make a habit out of it. Try no more than five or 10 minutes if you are getting started.
Quick last fact: You get the highest level of happiness with exercise if you are just starting out.
The increase of the BDNF proteins in your brain acts as a mood enhancer. The effects are similar to drug addiction one study found. And when you start exercising, the feeling of euphoria is the highest.
Exercise and how it affects our level of happiness is an exciting topic! Have you played around with this and seen any results? We would love to hear your thoughts on how exercise and happiness work together.
This article was adapted from Cool Buzz. Head over there to read the entire article or get more great life advice!