Installing muscles – get moving to get happier

Article by Linda Bauere

Even though #summerbodygoals might be your motivation for getting out of bed and hitting the gym, research suggests that there could be more to it than just looking “fab” in your next Instagram shoot.

Whilst some may think that losing those extra pounds is a reward big enough on its own, the majority of us wouldn’t mind having a reason that could finally motivate us to ditch our next Netflix binge and go for a hike instead.   

In 2018 The Journal of Happiness Studies published a systematic review done by researchers at the University of Michigan which aimed to understand the relationship between physical exercise and happiness. They found out something that I’m sure every fitness junkie could have already told you – “as little as 10-min physical activity per week or 1 day of doing exercise per week might result in increased levels of happiness”.

…physical activity could be a great tool when coping with stress.

The data that they had gathered in their systematic review showed a “consistent positive relationship between physical activity and happiness”. When reviewing observational studies, they compared the odds of  being happy for inactive peoples vs people who had different physical activity levels. As you might guess, the odds ratio increased as the frequency of exercise increased – the people who were very active had a 52 percent higher odds ratio of being happy than inactive people.

Unfortunately, the authors of the study weren’t able to give us the answer we are all looking for – but why is it that exercise can improve our happiness? One possible explanation is that it all comes back fromto the brain. Exercise has been shown to increase the production of feel-good hormones otherwise known as endorphins. Endorphins  are morphine-like substances produced by the central nervous system, which bind to opiate receptors in the brain. They are the ones responsible for modulating the transmission of pain signals. Simply put, endorphins minimize discomfort and pain and maximize pleasure. Therefore, it seems to be quite an obvious answer – increase the feel-good hormones and your happiness will increase with them.

Another explanation might be that physical activity could be a great tool when coping with stress – focusing your attention on your body, not the worries of the mind, is suggested to have similar effects as meditation.

…the majority of us wouldn’t mind having a reason that could finally motivate us to ditch our next Netflix binge and go for a hike instead.

Of course, exercise could have a great impact on your self-esteem as it can help you lose that little bit of excess weight and feel more comfortable in your body. An improved confidence without a doubt could help with one’s happiness levels. Also we cannot forget the suggestions to strengthen one’s ties with family and friends (read – increasing happiness) by doing physical activities together, so for some people the major positivity boost might come from the people not the exercise in itself.

Even though we are still waiting for scientists to give us a certain answer to “why moving your derrière will make you smile more”, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. After all, isn’t the gym the new black?

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