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Will Exercise Make Me Happier?

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

Research indicates that exercise is good for us mentally, physically, and emotionally. Scientists worldwide and in vastly different fields agree that even 30 minutes of cardio a day will make you feel better. However, as someone who dreads the concept of going for a run or hitting the gym, it made me question, "will exercise make me happier?" In this article, we will talk about the science of exercise and happiness, how to reframe the exercise mindset, and how you can find joy in movement.

The Science of Happiness and Exercise

Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon, indicates that exercising is crucial to a well-rounded self. Why is that?

When you participate in exercise, your body releases neurotransmitters (little chemical messengers) that tell your brain that you are happy. You have likely heard of them; they include endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. You may have even heard of the term "runner's high," which simply describes this process.

The simple routine of regularly increasing your serotonin levels (through exercise) can also improve your appetite and sleep cycles.

So, it's almost impossible to say that exercise isn't good for you. But, I'm not the type of girl to hit the gym; you won't catch me running unless someone is chasing me. It's not for me. So what can I, or someone like me, do instead?

Reframing the Exercise Mindset

There are two pillars to the exercise mindset that people often get caught up in, the “why I exercise mindset” and the “traditional exercise mindset.”

Why You Exercise Mindset

First, let’s touch on why you exercise. Often, people believe that we exercise to fix something, tone something, or justify that 5th cookie we had last night. However, exercise for happiness can’t be about fixing something or body hating.

You have to have a healthy mindset about exercise to make it worthwhile; you have to do it because you WANT to and because it FEELS good. If you dread every moment up until you exercise, hate doing it during, and feel discouraged after, that isn’t fun, sustainable, or building any kind of happiness. That’s where challenging the “traditional exercise mindset” comes to play.

Traditional Exercise Mindset

Often, when people think of exercise, they think of countless hours jogging down the road, doing push-ups, lifting weights, or hitting the exercise bike. Let's be honest; if you aren't one of those people who love it, then it is boring, tedious, and downright awful to think about, let alone do.

Fortunately, I found a concept that challenged my exercise mindset when I was listening to The Happiness Lab with guest Jessamyn Stanley, a love your body curvy yoga instructor. She said one word that clicked for me, “MOVEMENT.” It's the idea that we can be happier through "movement." Ah, movement, maybe I can get behind this. A little reframing in my mind and a slight tweak of the wording might make all the difference.

The science is precise; we need to move. Movement will make us happier (and healthier).

So, if you really don't want to run and have no interest in jumping on the Peleton bandwagon, give yourself the grace that those types of movements are not for you. Instead, find joy in an activity that is right for you.

Finding the Joy in Movement

Yes, there are traditional exercise regimes that you can engage in, but if they aren't fun for you, then you aren't going to do them. Luckily, there are a million ways to do anything; you just have to find what works for you. It could be dancing, swimming, jump roping, boxing, or anything else that gets your heart rate up!

I encourage you to start with being present and mindful in whatever movement you choose. A great example is yoga. Many people are able to express their joy and mindfulness in yoga while still gaining all the benefits of exercise that they need.

BUT, I'll be honest and say that yoga isn't for me either. Don't hate; I just can't find the joy in it, so I will not force myself to do something that doesn't work for me. So let’s use me as an example.

Me as an Example!

So, running and yoga doesn't work for me. I accept that. Instead, I found what did work for me, tennis.

Years ago, when I played tennis, I was terrible, and I was only really a tennis lesson junkie, but when I was there, I was present. It was mostly because I was scared to death to look away and get a tennis ball to the face. So, there I was, following the ball, watching each bounce, without another thought in my mind. That’s the whole goal!

So, as a quick recap:

1. Exercise is healthy! It’s good for our mental health and physical health.

2. Exercise is being reframed and called movement.

3. Movement (formerly known as exercise) for happiness can’t be about fixing something.

4. We need to change our mindset between movement and that dark urge to change our bodies.

5. Being present and mindful in whatever movement you choose and grateful for our body, exactly as it is, is the first step to rewiring our mindset

How Do You Find Joy in Movement?

Tennis is my story; I invite you to find what works for you. What is the movement activity that you can get lost in? Share your answers with me in the comments!

Want to learn more, tune in to my podcast, Everyday Happiness! For just 2-minutes a day, you can learn how to create lasting happiness.

Plus, let’s connect on social at @everydayhappinesswithkatie and join the community on the hashtags #IntentionalMargins and #everydayhappinesswithkatie on Instagram.

In the mean time, get a dose of happiness delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe to our newsletter, delivered twice a month, today!

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