Why Exercise Triggers Happiness in our Brains

What triggers happiness in our brain when we exercise? Most of us are aware of what happens to the body when we exercise. We build more muscle or more stamina. We feel how daily activities like climbing stairs becomes easier if we exercise regularly. But when it comes to our brain and mood though, the connection isn’t so clear. Here is what actually happens:

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 that has a protective and also reparative element to 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, is released in your brain. 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. Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning. So this is the key to maximize happiness through exercise: don’t do more, but focus on when.

The release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time. So this means that if you have never exercised before or not for a long time, your happiness gains will be the highest if you start now.

Summing-up: The most important part to note, is that exercise is a “keystone” habit. This means that daily exercise can pave the way not only for happiness, but also growth in all other areas of your life.

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