Even if you’ve never experienced the elusive runner’s high, you probably know exercise can make you happier. Scientific research has shown there are countless connections between mind and body; to simplify a complicated process: exercise boosts dopamine and other chemicals in the brain that make us feel happier. What’s more, many kinds of exercise can put us in a wonderful “flow” state, which is one of the hallmarks of well-being, according to positive psychology.
Beyond happy chemicals, though, here are eight more surprising ways exercise makes us happier.
1. Leads to achievements
When we have a goal, we become more engaged with life and excited about the future. Whether it’s jogging your first mile without stopping or exercising three times a week, having a goal initially sparks enthusiasm, and then making progress toward that goal really fuels our commitment and makes us feel good. It may even motivate us to plan and accomplish other goals!
2. Creates “me” time
Picture your exercise time as a mini-retreat for some healthy “me” time. We often think of “me” time as sitting by a fire with a cup of tea or reading a book, but a good sweat session can help you let go of stress, increase your energy and think with clarity. Even on those days when you aren’t in the mood to move, you will always feel better after you exercise, because when you feel fully charged, it’s much easier to be happy.
3. Retains your quality of life as you age
Staying in good cardiovascular shape and using your muscles can help prevent injuries and illness as you age. It also can help you with everyday movements (functional fitness) that involve lifting, carrying, bending and stretching as you get older. Retaining your quality of life is an essential ingredient to your future happiness.
4. Pushes you beyond your normal limits
Whether it’s going to a spin class, signing up for your first 5K or doing yoga for the first time, exercise is an opportunity to challenges yourself—to do something that scares you simply for the sense of exhilaration you’ll feel. When you do something outside your comfort zone, you may just surprise yourself with your abilities and gain an incredible sense of satisfaction and pride.
5. Leads to social connections
Gym memberships, group fitness classes, charitable walks and running groups are all opportunities to connect with others, which is big when it comes to happiness. Be a part of a healthy group of friends and watch your mood soar.
6. Inspires those around you
Let your actions speak for you. Lace up your sneakers, trot off to the gym or take a long bike ride. Your children will notice. Show your kids that physical activity is something you value and they will value it as well. Plus, you never know who else you might be inspiring, such as a parent or coworker.
7. Builds up your self-confidence
Doing what you set out to do and sticking with it is the fastest way to invest in your self-confidence. Savor the amazing feeling of making exercise a habit, getting stronger or enjoying clothes again. As your muscles grow stronger, so will your self-esteem.
8. Brings out the kid in you
Remember the days of running around outside for hours and coming in smelling of fresh air? Tap into that childhood freedom by finding an exercise that feels more like play, whether it’s a game of pick-up basketball or a joyful Zumba class. Added perk? You will sleep like a baby.
Sandra Bienkowski is a regular contributor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.