Most of us know that when we exercise our body changes - we build muscle, burn fat, increase stamina. Although the effects on our brain and mood are not as obvious.
When we start exercising the brain interprets it as a moment of stress. As our heart pressure increases the brain thinks that we are either fighting an enemy or running away from one. To protect itself and the body from stress the brain then releases a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This BDNF has a protective and correctable component to our memory neurons and it functions as a reset switch. This explains why feelings of relaxation, ease and eventually happiness are experienced after exercising.
However BDNF isn’t the only chemical that kicks into action, endorphins are also released into our brain. Researcher MK McGovern wrote that:
“These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.”
The brain becomes more active during and after exercise than when we are sedentary or mentally concentrating on something.
BDNF and endorphins are the reasons why exercise can make us feel happy. What is a little scary is that these chemicals have a very similar addictive nature to heroin, morphine and nicotine. Thankfully exercise is actually good for our body and mind.
A recent study by Penn State University revealed some interesting results regarding happiness and exercise. They found that their test subjects were overall more productive and happier on their day of exercise. It didn’t make a difference whether they exercised regularly or not:
“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.”
Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times bestselling author has written a book on the subject matter titled “The first 20 minutes”. In her book she explains how the key to reach optimum happiness levels when exercising, is to be active regularly but for short periods of time as that is when the chemicals reach their peak:
“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.”
The great news is that we don’t need to be on the look out for the next killer workout. All we need to do is leave aside 20 minutes every day for some physical activity. Jo Coulston a Research Associate at the University of Bristol, Department of Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences states:
“On exercise days, people’s mood significantly improved after exercising. Mood stayed about the same on days they didn’t, with the exception of people’s sense of calm which deteriorated.”
How To Make Exercise A Habit
Put your gym clothes over your alarm clock
Sounds simple and perhaps a little strange but this technique has been proven to be one of the best ones. Arrange everything that you need for the gym in your bedroom and put your alarm clock underneath. Your gym clothes will be the first items that you see and therefore it will be much easier to convince yourself to get up and go.
Log your progress
The key to regularly exercise is to make part of your daily routine. To help you achieve this you need to regularly log what you did, how long you did for and how it made your body feel. This will act as a reminder of how good you felt after exercising. Try fitness apps such as Fitocracy or RunKeeper.
Have Very Very Small Goals
If you start with unrealistic exercise goals they will only make you feel achy and tired which over a short period of time will most likely lead to you giving up on workout all together. The key to success is to start exercising for as little as 3 minutes a day at the start and then gradually increasing your goals.
You can find some more amazing exercise motivation tips in our post Exercise – The mind makes a big difference
It can be hard to include long exercise regimes into our already busy schedules. We, here at WriteUpp, are delighted to learn that we can still enjoy optimum happiness levels if we just do 20 minutes of focused physical activity a day! Winner!
We will definitely be trying the alarm clock tip too.