An Exercise in Happiness by Celine Saroyan
Runners will tell you they feel high after a run and that they are then free from any pain, discomfort, stress or anxiety. People who practice yoga, lift weights or simply get on a treadmill for a daily walk, are familiar with a similar feeling, although they may not call it a “high.” It is a consistent observation that exercise lifts mood. Can we take it a little further and really say that those who exercise are in fact happier? Exercise has long been reported to improve conditions related to stress and anxiety. Now, there is real scientific evidence to support this. Just how exercise boosts your mood is a little complex and it comes down to heightened production of happy chemicals in the brain – the neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Not only this, but exercise releases growth hormones that increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, stimulating the release of powerful mood-enhancing endorphins. Yoga, swimming, cycling and long distance running improve serotonin and dopamine levels. Light to moderate exercise increases dopamine production. Excessive training, on the other hand, can have adverse effects. Too much of a good thing? Yes, that is definitely possible when it comes to exercise. What is routine for an Olympic athlete who has built up strength and stamina over a lifetime or a career may be excessive for you. Proof that you’re happier Endorphins are measureable. They’re the neurochemicals that act as the body’s natural painkiller and start releasing soon after you begin to exercise. They produce four key effects on the body: they relieve pain, reduce stress and anxiety, enhance the immune system and postpone the aging process. Endorphin production increases with the frequency of the exercise and occurs regardless of the individual’s athletic history or the level of exercise intensity. Based on these findings, it is no surprise that those who exercise regularly say they are happier. Now science can confirm that they are in fact measurably chemically happier.
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With new research techniques and a growing understanding of biochemistry, scientists at Princeton discovered that exercise also stimulates the creation of new brain cells. Even more interesting is that there are indications that these new cells are more resistant to the ill effects of stress than the brain cells we were born with. How much, how little? How much exercise do we need to promote these responses? Does the type of activity matter? The simple answer is yes, both the quantity and nature of your exercise do matter, but perhaps in a way many don’t expect. The key variables in an exercise routine are the time allotted for workouts and, more importantly, the intensity of the workout. Consistent and moderate levels of activity have the greatest effect on serotonin and dopamine levels. 45 minutes of activity causing an increase in body temperature and heart rate (somewhere in the range of 60-75% of your maximum heart rate) are what you want. Strength training, swimming or walking at a good pace will achieve these goals.
The Happy Magazine